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.

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.

Hero #5: Simon Sinek

Hero #5: Simon Sinek

In the next 400 or so words I cannot summarise all of the insights of todays hero, Simon Sinek, he has a lot to say. But in the theme of stress management one Sinek quote always crops up. He says “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” Simon Sinek

He goes on to explain this in his book ‘Start with Why’. When we think about what we fill our days with, what makes us money, do we think about it in terms of what we do, how we do it or why we do it? We get stressed out because we have either not figured out the ‘Why’ or we have and we don’t like it. Without realising we have not engaged our heart in our activities so when they become challenging it stresses us out.

Sounds like a simple solution in principle but how do you figure out the ‘Why’? For most of us this will be an exercise in post rationalising – we do not have the advantage of being on the edge of a precipice of opportunity looking out at the options available for us and asking what’s next? Most of us are in a job, have a chosen career, have trained in a specific area. So, in this situation we have to assess what we love about our current work, what inspires us, what do we believe in? It is possible that this won’t even be in your job description, for example, bringing a sense of harmony to working environments in the office, if you really love that then even when it is challenged, disheartening does not so easily lead to stress, instead it tends to just spur us on to work harder.

Every time I’m on the way to meet with a client I mutter under my breath “Lord, I pray that I don’t make efficiency the be-all-and-end-all for this person” I do this because I have two conflicting passions in my life: 1. Pure unadulterated efficiency at the expense of all else and 2. Helping people to see that they don’t have to change their personality in order to feel in control of their day-to-day life balance. Being aware that one passion can out-rule the other is an important task for me!

I’d love to hear about other peoples passions and if anyone else finds passions that conflict each other, please leave your comments below.

Hero #4: Marie Forleo

Hero #4: Marie Forleo

If anyone was capable of making me groan against American trite optimism you’d think it would be Marie Forleo, but no, I am a total convert. If you ever needed a kick up the backside to get your ideas off the ground you just need to watch one of Marie Forleo’s videos on YouTube. It seemed wrong to not mention her as one of my heroes during my optimism theme.

So why does her positivity get me so excited? I’d say it’s because she’s trying to get us to DO STUFF. One of her motto’s (she has several) is “You don’t have to get it perfect. You just have to get it going”. Optimism can become so introspective – I love that this is quite the opposite. Just take a look at her latest video, an interview with Seth Godin, you’ll get the idea.



My latest theme, creativity vs. efficiency, has led me to consider how a creative person goes about becoming efficient in his or her work. Creative work is well known for having elastic timings; “how long is a piece of string?” would greet me often when asking a creative about time needed to solve a creative problem. But what if you want to ensure you or your creatives are not so much sticking to pre-determined deadlines but more importantly using their time to the best of their ability, not shirking, flunking, avoiding or procrastinating?

Flow. A popular word used in this topic. Coined most prevalently by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Happy Birthday by-the-way Mr. Csikszentmihalyi). It’s a word used to describe a heightened mental state that we achieve when creativity is going really well, we forget ourselves, we have clear goals, we do not self-doubt and importantly we get things done. Sounds brilliant. It brings us real happiness – which is really the focus of Csikszentmihalyi’s studies. But how do you achieve this at work? Csikszentmihalyi suggests aiming for a balance between challenge and skill: What challenges you? What are you good at?

In reality, the feedback I’m getting from creative friends and colleagues is that this is merely an observation of work, not something that can be manufactured. If you find a project that you have the skills for and that poses challenges then great, but even this doesn’t automatically mean you will achieve a sense of flow. Don’t try and replicate it if it does happen to you, just enjoy it while it does!

Well, ok, there are some methods for achieving flow in your life, but they are sometimes a bit too much effort…

Can Creativity and Efficiency be Happily Married?

Can Creativity and Efficiency be Happily Married?

I hope you enjoyed the procrastination theme we explored during the spring. With a change in season comes a change in topic; for Summer I have chosen the relationship between creativity and efficiency. I’ve never worked in a creative environment where this relationship hasn’t been a challenge. It’s the age-old ad-world battle between the suit and the CD:

CD: “Fuck off Mr. Suit, leave me to my ideas, creativity takes time”

Suit: “We don’t have time! The client is waiting, this deadline is scary and big and you are wasting time!”

Is there a solution? YES! Can the suit and the CD live happily ever after? YES! How?

You may have noticed I categorised this post under ‘Heroes’. That’s because it’s about my biggest hero, he’s currently unpublished so you won’t have heard of him, his name is Alastair Duckworth, he’s my husband *shy cough*. His creative philosophy has informed my management of suits and CDs probably more than anything. For all my palpitations over efficiency/productivity/time management I am able to love, appreciate and defend the creative process because of this 1 simple rule he has patiently taught me: TENSION: Where you find two opposing forces there you find life.

So who wins the fight between creativity and efficiency? No-body and everybody: if you are fighting, you are winning. You lose when one side stops fighting and tension stops existing.

Relish the fight and do good work on time.

“Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” G.K. Chesterton

[Photograph credit: Ed Pugh 2008]