Heroes of Old: #2 Charles Dickens

Heroes of Old: #2 Charles Dickens

My ‘heroes of old’ series wouldn’t be complete without focusing on some prominent creators of works who were truly prolific. There have been many, but a friend recently told me about the routine of Charles Dickens, who, when writing, only worked in the mornings and always had a 3 hour walk in the afternoon, and it got me thinking about the routines of productive people in general.

Your routine – the way you structure your day-to-day work – is very personal to you. Often developed over many years of trial and error and for most people is dictated by the 9-5 work culture. But even within the confines our office life we can make adaptations to improve our efficiency.

Back to Dickens, research on his routine led me to a brilliant article in the Harvard Business Review reviewing a book by Mason Currey: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Rather than fill the internet with more words I’ll simply appeal to you to read it here. It covers off some of the main trends of creative and productive people without letting you lose hope that your 9-5 is your slave-master, beautiful.

Heroes of Old: #1 Eisenhower

Heroes of Old: #1 Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

As part of my Summer Rethinking Productivity Theme I am focusing on 3 heroes of old that you wouldn’t normally associate with Productivity. I want to shake things up and help you to see that we don’t just have to listen to Seth Godin and Simon Sinek, the oldies are often the best…and wisest of them all…

This week Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34th president of the United States is in the spot-light. The classically trained project managers among you may recall his coined methodology ‘The Eisenhower Matrix’, a simple and effective tool for prioritising tasks, but before I go on to this, it’s his overall leadership qualities that I wanted to focus on first.

Eisenhower was a great communicator: He led people by clearly communicating what they needed to do and why they needed to do it, whilst trusting them 100% with the ability to know how to do it. Delegating is the underpinning principle of his productivity matrix: Can you delegate well? Can you trust people to do your work for you?

This can be a sticking point for some, perhaps because we are thinking about delegation in the wrong way – rather than thinking “It will be quicker and better if I do this task myself” try thinking “If I trust this person to do this task, they will be empowered and are more likely to believe in our shared mission”. This can be a liberating decision for both you and the person you are delegating to, even if they don’t always get it right, you are able to share the ‘why’ of your business with someone else offering a long term strategy for more productive working.

Eisenhower put it like this: “Character in many ways is everything in leadership. It is made up of many things, but I would say character is really integrity. When you delegate something to a subordinate, for example, it is absolutely your responsibility, and he must understand this. You as a leader must take complete responsibility for what the subordinate does. I once said, as a sort of wisecrack, that leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.”

In summary here are Eisenhower’s best tips on delegating:

  1. Communicate the what and the why of the task very clearly and in a way that everyone in the team can understand
  2. Leave the how to them
  3. Pick up the pieces when things go wrong and never blame them for mistakes
  4. Get excited with them when things go right

So this leads us to his all-famous matrix.

Eisenhower Matrix

You can split all of your tasks into 4 quadrants. The first is the most urgent and important; these are the tasks you do first. The second quadrant is the important but less urgent, here’s where you diarise chunks of time to ensure these things don’t slip off the list. The last two quadrants are for the less important things, the urgent ones need to be delegated, as discussed above, and the less urgent just need to be avoided altogether. Here’s a little video which helps to summarise this too.

I hope you have found this interesting, please comment below if you struggle with delegating yourself or have found some other useful tips to help you delegate.

Let’s Rethink Productivity

Let’s Rethink Productivity

Productivity in its basic form means to produce more. This is a misleading statement for any individual or business because the definition suggests that volume is the aim. Productivity could be better described as producing what is good, better. Matt Perman, author of What’s Best Next, describes it as a focus “not primarily on doing more things in less time but rather in doing the right things in a flexible way”

Right, good, these seem like high ideals: world peace, protecting the abused and marginalised; don’t these ideals often sit outside our remit of work? Matt Perman would like to suggest otherwise: that this is a focus on the right and the good of our own day-to-day work.

Everything can be done well, even the books, the housekeeping, the posting (both traditional and media based). Given infinite time we can do things better and better, normally there is an exact correlation between doing something well and the time we spend over it*. It doesn’t sound like very good productivity advice to say “do everything really well”, we’d never sleep if we genuinely took on this advice.

So here’s the tricky bit: deciding what things are worth doing really well and spending a lot of time over and what things are not worth it. Once we’ve picked the important things, we can focus on them, create a vision around them, and carve out time for them. The less important things can be attacked with an arsenal of productivity tools in order to reduce them: outsourcing, automating, delegating, reducing, action plans, and project support systems: kapow-boom-splat!

How do we decide what’s important? This is as individual as you, but here are a few pointers about things we all share in common:

1. We are people orientated.
Art Markman, author of Smart Thinking says “The interactions we have with other people affect the way we feel about life. Our close relationships keep us grounded and influence both happiness and the sense that we are part of a larger community. Interestingly, even our interactions with people we do not know that well give us a sense that we are part of that larger community”

2. We get a joy out of serving others
There’s a Chinese proverb that says “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Or put in a more scientific way by Jenny Santi in an article on time.com “Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.”

3. We cannot ever be truly motivated by money

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A report published in the Harvard business review entitled “Does money really affect Motivation?” shows that “there is less than 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels”

In business ‘your people’ are your customers, even if you don’t have direct contact with them. Orient your goals around serving them and the rest might just start to fall into place. Working with and for people is not efficient, it’s slow and hard work, but also fulfilling and there’s no bigger killer of efficiency than lack of fulfilment.

*Although it can be argued that too much time is also a killer of good work, especially in the realm of creativity.

Business Start-ups: Anita Roddick

Business Start-ups: Anita Roddick

To round off my short series on Business Start-ups I have gone into the history books. A particular soft spot for me, as I worked in her business for 3 years. Unfortunately I never got to meet her, as she passed away 3 years before I joined, but her memory lived on in all our internal training and I was given her biography during my probation period.

Anita Roddick is, in my view, the queen of start-ups. As many celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday, what better person to write about – she stood up for the rights of women all over the world! Here’s a few tips about starting a business that have come from her quotes:

“Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking”

  • Starting a business comes from a point of need: Necessity is the mother of invention. Where is the need in your world? Does it excite you to think about ways of solving it?

“I had a strong sense of moral outrage”

  • Anita was motivated by her values and drive to make change happen – what motivates you? What do you feel passionately about?

“I am aware that success is more than a good idea. It is timing too. The Body Shop arrived just as Europe was going ‘green’.”

  • Getting your timing right can be the difference between success and failure. What opportunities are out there for you at this time? Is anything new happening in your field that could lead to new prospects?

I hope you have found this topic helpful, I’d love to hear your comments if you are starting a business and always happy to help with your productivity needs at this crucial time, just get in touch.

Business Start-ups: The Partnership

Business Start-ups: The Partnership

The third in my business start-ups series is from Quirky Motion, a film production company based in South London. Here’s an interview about their experience of a partnership with the two lead directors Simeon & John:

What made you guys partner up to become Quirky Motion?

Simeon: If only it were that simple! This partnership has been 16 years in the making and come through many different guises along the way. For me it started after a long stint of freelance roles, a boring day job and several film festival submissions for my own short film projects. My first main independent project was for an IDEO documentary in 2006 but John and I joined forces with a third partner, Colin Munro later that year when we made a music video for the Flaming Monkeys. They needed us to have a registered company name so we went with Quirky Motion, a name John had been using since 2001.

 John: At university I worked with two other guys, we worked out we could do better work together because of our complementary skills and so started a team under the name of Quirky Motion, we did quite a few projects over the years like this. Even from the very beginning we built the company on a philosophy of working in whatever creative partnerships we wanted for each project, and just have the people that clicked. So in a way it’s never really been about ‘us’.

 Simeon: When we did finally become ‘Quirky Motion’ as it is today there were many reasons to partner-up. We were all living in the same house so the commute was short!

 John: We had a similar vision for what we wanted to achieve, we shared similar creative interests and influences. We didn’t have a great education but had quickly learnt that you just have to do things outside of the system because the system is never going to give you anything. We had an independent spirit; wanting to tell our own stories rather than being a cog in someone else’s machine. Some of the reasons were probably a bit foolhardy – wanting to cut corners and do interesting projects, which can prove difficult without a large network of contacts as we soon found out!

“Even from the very beginning we built the company on a philosophy of working in whatever creative partnerships we wanted for each project.” John Lumgair, Quirky Motion.

 What frightened you the most about doing this?

John: We didn’t start with fears, we only had fears later on.

Simeon: Yes, once reality slapped us in the face!

So, what was hard and what did you do about it?

John: We had energy at the beginning, jobs were coming in and we assumed that is how it would continue and then when it didn’t come in we were like Ahh! But when we hit that point we started asking people for advice. Everyone is the expert when it comes to growing a business and we really struggled for a long time listening to the wrong sorts of advice. You don’t grow a business by writing theories down like business plans, you grow by meeting people and doing good work.

 Simeon: Amongst that there was some really good advice, even though at the time is didn’t feel like it, negativity was actually very helpful, time after time hearing people say that starting your own business was nearly impossible, it made us want to prove them wrong. We had a couple of brilliant mentors, all from the industry, they saw our potential, they offered us opportunities, asked us insightful questions.

 John: We generally found the good guys were the ones working in the industry itself and we found that the people that were there with ‘business’ experience just didn’t understand our industry and how it operates.

Now you are doing this what do you enjoy most?

 Simeon: We both love working on our own projects when we get the time – these can also bring in work so it’s great to do them when we can. Mainly I enjoy working in collaboration with different types of creatives who all want to add to the project to make it better.

John: Yes, The network is beyond us, there is always collaboration: It is arrogant to think you can do anything on your own.

Simeon: The contacts we have we share very openly between us.

John: We generally are very open with all our contacts, even with our wider network. That’s one thing we noticed about being in LA, people are much more open with their contacts than in the UK.

Simeon: They are much more open generally!

Is there anything you miss about being employed?

John: Not having to do my tax return! And if we have no clients we don’t get paid.

Simeon: Back in the early days we didn’t have the structures in place, we should have sorted that a lot earlier, that was really hard, and months would go by without getting paid.

What advice would you give for people wanting to start up a partnership with a friend or family member?

John: Work leads to work, there’s a proverb that says ‘Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow’: you can’t cut corners. And have a laugh, it makes the whole thing a lot easier.

Thank you Simeon and John for your insights, As John mentioned, industry experience is key for helping out those getting started, with 10 years’ experience in the creative industry, there’s a chance I could help you with your start up and would be keen to hear about your plans, just get in touch.

And if you are interested in finding out more about Quirky Motion, here’s a trailer to their latest movie, out soon:

ÉLUDER Official Trailer [HD] from Simeon Lumgair on Vimeo.

Business Start-ups: The Freelancer

Business Start-ups: The Freelancer

Second in my theme of business start-ups is Developer Freelancer, Patrick, let’s see what he has to say about his work and what tips he can bring to those of us seeking to set-up shop:

  1. What made you decide to go freelance?

It chose me! I worked at a great agency and took a leap to progress my career – I joined a start-up. After 2 years of hard graft, the start-up ran out of cash and made me redundant. I had a lot of contacts so jumping into a freelance role was the easiest way to restore income while I figured out what to do in the long term. I had freelancer friends and former-colleagues who had made the jump who helped me out a lot with good advice. In the end, I found that the flexibility suited me so I carried on.

  1. What was the thing you were most frightened about when you considered the prospect?

Once I had the experience of switching contracts a couple of times I started to lose the fear and feel more confident in the stability of the freelance market and my ability to find interesting work.

Ultimately your network, reputation and motivation are the biggest factors that you can control that will determine how successful you are as a freelancer.

  1. Now you have worked as a freelancer what would you say is the most rewarding part?

Ironically – the most rewarding part for me is when I feel integrated with the wider team. I’ve always maintained that it’s better to put your effort into supporting the team you’re working with as opposed to a specific project or their client. The quality of the work, satisfaction of the end-client and success of your direct-client all flows from that.

Projects, clients and agencies will come and go but there’s a real satisfaction that comes with building a relationship that survives for years and in my experience, it consistently leads to future work.

  1. Is there anything you find difficult about working as a freelancer?

My biggest struggle is getting actionable feedback to help me improve. In the freelance world, if you have a bad project your contract may be terminated but you may never get a clear understanding of what went wrong.

Similarly, you may have a great project and not fully appreciate which part of your contribution really made the difference. I’ve sought feedback from my clients on a number of occasions and despite getting positive feedback, I struggle to get anything actionable. There’s nobody who has a vested interest in helping you grow, so it’s something I have to work quite hard at to make sure I am developing professionally.

  1. Is there anything you miss about being a full time employed member of a team?

I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked for some truly fantastic teams, and I truly do miss working with them. I always valued having a boss and peers who were in my corner, rooting for me, and willing to help me. My career progressed very quickly as a direct result of the support I gained from colleagues who inspired me and were generous with sharing their time and experience.

Also the sense of ownership of a piece of work is something that doesn’t come so easily for a piece of freelance work and I do miss that.

Thank you for your thoughts in this, Patrick. This week really highlights again the importance of a great network of contacts to keep you going. Following-up with clients and colleagues can feel like a real time-sink but it is really worth taking time out to build these precious relationships for the future. If you are worried about neglecting your contacts and need help prioritising then please take a look at my client referrals or get in contact for more information.

Business Start-ups: The ‘Mumpreneur’

Business Start-ups: The ‘Mumpreneur’

Starting your own business is new for me, let’s take a look at how others have fared and what tips they can offer as they tackle managing their time in my new theme: business start-ups

First up is Madia, an NHS physiotherapist turned pregnancy and post-pregnancy support therapist specialising in Pilates and massage. She started out working for herself full time last year and has spared a couple of moments in her busy schedule to chat to me about how she finds running her own business:

  1. What made you decide to start working for yourself?

It began back in 2011 when I fell pregnant with my daughter. I struggled to find any suitable pregnancy exercise classes and massage services in my area. Most people don’t want to treat pregnant ladies. So I decided to extend my training to fill the gap. It started with just one evening class a week in my local church. Just before I left for maternity leave with my son in 2014 I was contacted by a private clinic to set-up pregnancy support services with them. This was a brilliant confidence boost.

I started to struggle with the family work life balance when I returned to work in 2015 after my second pregnancy: 2 childcare fees and a long commute across London was just too much. In September 2016 I took the leap to start up fully self-employed!

  1. What was the thing you were most frightened about when you considered the prospect?

There were quite a few mental barriers for me at the beginning: no regular income, possibly losing my future employability and from a very personal perspective seemingly swapping my professional status to that of “mum”, “housewife” and “wannabe business woman”.

I was lucky that I managed to pilot my idea over the years and build a small client base. I managed to also get contacts with others who are helping me along the way.

  1. Now you are doing it, what do you love most about working for yourself?

I love that I can schedule my clients and meetings around my family commitments and give my clients as much time and personal input as they want, without worrying about clinic restrictions.

I also love networking with other ‘mumpreneurs’, seeing their success is so inspiring.

“I love that I can schedule my clients and meetings around my family commitments and give my clients as much time and personal input as they want” Madia

  1. Is there anything you miss about not working in a team or being an employee?

The serious bits like holiday pay, pension etc. are things I will need to incorporate into my business now. I do miss the health professional environment and working with other Physio’s but I’m now creating my own environment, perhaps even my own little team of multi skilled professionals and that prospect is much more exciting!

Madia, thank you for being our first start-up case study. As you can see from her interview she has taken the leap into self-employment despite some of the doubts that crept in but most of her success seems to have come from the ability to pilot and test her services before taking the leap and having a support network around her – great advice Madia!

There will be plenty to think about if you are planning to start a business, don’t let time management be one of them. The end of the 9-5 doesn’t have to mean the beginning of a 24/7 live and breathe your business or else it fails mindset…it might do, but wouldn’t it be worth getting a second opinion before you take that plunge? Take a look at my client referrals or get in contact for more information.