In praise of routine


For the first time since October 2008, I’ve been in one place for more than 6 months. Long enough to get into a routine and start to feel like I’m living a normal’ish life. Long enough to feel like I can start building something more than airmiles.

The simple benefits to this is that I’ve now got a stable personal cashflow, and consistent expenses which I can budget against and plan for. I know I’m playing hockey each week, know that I can go to gym and do exercise regularly, I know I’m going to see key people in my life often enough to engage with them more than superficially,

As an aside, this happily coincides with being in London for 10 years. Thinking back, I’ve been in London for longer than any other city, since I was 13, so think that affords me the privilege of saying I’m a Londoner. More importantly, I no longer feel transient here. I’ve got a plan, I’m on a mission, and I’m comfortable with that.

I thought I’d never say this, but I’m really enjoying having a routine, and through living the routine for long enough, I’m starting to see the benefits of optimising that routine, and getting into daily habits which make life better, faster, easier, more fulfilling.

More and more, I’m drawn to the conclusion that despite what our modern society preaches about the always connected lifestyle we lead, there are some simple fundamentals which are absolutely essential to making personal progress, and good daily habits are one of them.

What are your daily habits?

Actions, projects, priority, benefits


One of the things I do most often, to my detriment, is grouping actions along with projects. So the result is that I end feeling overwhelmed and unable to accomplish everything.

Ever done / found that yourself?
I’ve been doing this for years, so it’s a really hard habit to break but I’m getting there ;-)

So what I’ve started doing is using columns for my thinking, before they go into my GTD system:
The left column is for actions. [Usually full]
The middle column is for projects. [Usually 3 to 4 things]
The right column is for projects that are further out, and are just nagging at me but don’t need immediate attention. [Usually one or two items]
Items that are highlighted are a priority right now. They get immediate action. [Usually 3 or 4 items]

So that helps me to get things in perspective. I run through the actions on the left to make progress, and figure out the next action for the projects in the middle. The ones on the right, well they stay there.

And that’s it – 20 secs to do the columns, 10 mins to put things into their place, 5 mins to get it into your GTD system.
And voila, I feel back in control.

Hope that helps.

How do you do things?

What is your next action?


I’ve been working a lot lately on trying to streamline and rationalise everything in my head, for various reasons, and have found that the difference between projects and actions can be blurry when thinking of things broadly. The killer has been going through each of my projects, and ruthlessly thinking about what the “next action” is.

I can’t do everything at once, so having a smaller list of next actions is the best way for me to think about what I need to do across my 50 odd active (current, not someday / maybe) projects. When an action is done for the project, I then assign a next action.

When I started going into each project, it’s pretty clear that some stuff is only ever going to have one action (get car cleaned) -> so it’s not a project. When I found many “actions” within a project (they’re aligned for the same purpose or goal), then the next action becomes most important as it defines the starting point for the project, as well as the mental block you have to overcome to create progress and momentum.

So, my learning is this:
Next actions are essential for rationalising priority and allocation of time.
Projects should have more than one action (ala David Allen), focus should be on the very next action.
Ruthless pruning of projects, actions and mental RAM is essential for sanity ;-)

What are your thoughts / experiences?

A GTD Eureka! moment


It’s funny how one often finds clarity and purpose when one isn’t actually spending time doing the thing you need clarity for, to achieve your purpose.

This evening I was at a hockey training session, where we did a tactics whiteboard with the coach, (which was awesome – thanks Russ, Trid and Kiwi), and a fast 20 min run in the freezing cold. It was during the run at about 75% of the distance that I had a brief moment of Eureka!, where everything clicked into place for me about something that has been troubling me for a while now… so I’m already trying it out and so far the results are good. This has been one of those pivotal moments for me…

I don’t want to go into the detail of what it is here ‘cos that’s not the point, but what is interesting for me, is that my mind is a) back to being creative and b) working subconsciously. I’ve been teetering on the edge of a solution for ages now, and it’s finally clicked into place ;-)

So the take home for me is that I need to encourage those states of “being away from the desk” so that I can let my mind wander around solutions; and that I should also give my mind concrete things to think about – the first step of which is getting my mental RAM clear.

And that’s all – just wanted to share that, and log it for my own reference in time to come… ;-)

Get an online personal assistant, it will make your life easier


The shorter version:
Checkout Online Personal Assistant. I recommend it, it’s saved me time and made my life easier. Best part is you can use it from wherever…
Try it, tell Ed you got there from here, and he’ll treat you nice ;-)

The longer version:
OK, so I’m the first to admit that I often find myself with too many balls to juggle. I find that having more to do actually makes me more productive and when I get in the zone, things happen and it feels good.

However, when you’re starting a business, or working on something important to you, and you decide that it is the highest priority in your life, then other things slip down the priority order, and they simply don’t get done.

Cases in point:

  1. I’ve needed to get a UK drivers license for at least 3 years now
  2. I’ve needed to renew my South African passport for over a year now
  3. I’ve been serious about taking up Kendo, or a Japanese Sword Art, for at least 18 months
  4. I’ve needed to sort out health insurance for a long long long time
  5. I wanted to organise a birthday bash for myself this year, for precisely the reason why it didn’t happen last year

I think you get the picture…. Basically you keep your life together somehow until something threatens to break, then you mend it so it doesn’t break in the short term, then you go back to being focussed. I know not everyone is like that, but I am, hence this post! ;-)

Anyways, I’m not really into recommending or plugging services that I don’t have a lot of exposure to, mainly ‘cos I get too many emails so it’s hard to decide whom to spend an hour for getting to know a service, and also ‘cos people don’t really read my blog for that reason ;-) I’m not Scoble or Arrington or Kirkpatrick, and neither do I want to be.

Back to the point – a while ago my friend Ed setup a service called Online Personal Assistant, and after a bit of nudging I decided to give it a try. My @Inbox was overflowing, and I really just needed to clear some stuff that was important, but not that important it could go above Kindo.

So I sent a list of stuff to my personal assistant Kevin:

  1. Book Geek BBQ venue for summer in London
  2. Book karting venue for my birthday delebration
  3. Book bowling venue for my birthday celebration
  4. Find me health insurance
  5. Find me Tai Chi schools close to where I live
  6. Find me Kendo schools close to where I live

As you can see, they’re all time intensive tasks that would mean me spending a few hours online for each one, at some point, getting to a place where I can make a decision and then do some actions… Getting my passport and drivers license require me to be somewhere in person, so I needed to do that.

Where we are now is that Ed’s team (thanks Kevin!) has spent about 9 hours doing all that stuff for me, for which I’ll pay an hourly rate. Everything is documented and tracked in an online workspace (not Basecamp), and I’m happy with the results. I have a few things to tie down now, but basically all the research is done, and all it requires is another booking, or an action on my part.

Bottom line – I’ve saved 9 hours of my time (which I value more than what I’ll pay for it), thereby enabling me to focus on things more important to me now, so as far as I’m concerned I’m a happy biologist.

I happily recommend the service, and am going to continue to use it.

Building a Startup You Love is Hard (BaSYLiH) – Final Draft


OK, so this has become somewhat of a labour of love the last month or so, where I’ve snuck bits of time here and there to get this to a point where I’m happy it makes sense, and there’s not much more I can add to it now…

Please check it out, let me know what you think, comment on this post for feedback (or email me), and send me typos!

Once I’ve done one more pass of it and I’m happy it’s ready for consumption, I’m gonna create a page for it to live at (while other plans get rolling – thanks Ed!).

Here it is: Building a Startup You Love is Hard (BaSYLiH) – Final Draft.

Edit: If you’d rather read on Scribd, here it is – thanks to David for putting it there.

Enjoy ;-)

Doing one thing at a time seems to yield better results for me, so far


This is a post inspired by a conversation with Demian today ;-)

OK, so I’m the first to admit that multi-tasking is something that I do all the time. You know the deal – you have about 20 windows open, 6 emails in progress, 12 unread emails, a long list of things you want to accomplish, music in the headphones, tv in the background, at least one other person in the room or office, and sometimes the odd sandwich, pizza or drink handy (although I’m happy to say my pizza consumption is much less than it used to be!).

Added to that your juggling about 6 gazillion things you want to do in your mental RAM (go read Getting Things Done by David Allen – he talks about mental RAM in more detail. For Mom, RAM is what the computer uses to store short term stuff for programs so they’re faster) as well as the stuff other people want you to do.

So, my revelation came earlier this year when I found that due to the number of things on my plate, I was making little bits of progress, but not massive leaps. I was happy with where I was generally, but I felt that being really focussed on the important 20% at that time would be best. So I decided that if there was a productivity benefit to doing one thing at a time only (no, really – we’re not production line workers here) it was worth trying.

So, the first thing that was super hard was to get to grips with the idea that I had to actively NOT do what I normally did – kinda like untraining myself. This also meant not dealing with or answering emails unless they were in the “important and urgent” category (so my Inbox swelled up) – where I usually aimed to respond to something asap regardless – which bugged me since there are many emails I WANT to reply to, but not that many I HAVE to reply to.

The second thing was to consciously NOT do more than one thing at a time. So no more 21 tabs in Firefox, no more multiple emails open, no more writing multiple emails at the same time, no more starting 6 things at once, no more checking this and that, no more following rabbit holes.

The third thing that has been absolutely crucial for me, is to agree a priority order with myself, and to also agree with myself that if I’m not in the mood, my energy level is too low, or I’m simply not going to have enough time to complete, the priority order can change within reason.
I do the “global priority order” generally during a weekly review I try do every Sunday, which gets updated based on inputs, and this priority order reflects the importance I attach to things I want to accomplish. So for example, doing the SxSW panel content is more of a priority for me than organising my music collection.

I’m gonna go into this in more detail soon since I’ve already way past my bedtime, but the point that I want to make is that since I have my systems in place to handle my mental RAM, all I really HAVE to do is one thing at a time to completion.

And since I’ve done this, I’ve started ticking things off my lists more and more, and I’m feeling happier and more productive. I’m also finding that my life goals are on track because my priority order reflects the objectives I’ve set for myself. Result!

So I’m no Benjamin Franklin, but it’s been a real revelation to me how doing one thing at a time seems to yield better results, for me at least. I’m going to take this further and see where it leads.

You know what the funny thing is? My Dad has been telling me to do this for 25 years…. bless him! ;-)

Any thoughts from you?