Category Archives: The Effectiveness Project

Is it effectiveness or happiness we’re looking for?

Happiness is....

I’ve been working a lot recently with the concept of effectiveness and especially on ways of focusing or prioritising our efforts.

Looking again at the morning ritual of asking a clarifying question, it’s interesting to see what changes when you adjust the focus more on to the concept of happiness.

What would be different if you finished this sentence:

I’m likely to be happier at the end of the day if…

Both questions are looking ahead to the end of the day. Both are trying to identify some form of ideal state. So, should the answers be the same, or at least similar?

Some people have no clear association with the concept of happiness and their work. Work is work. It’s there to be done. Happiness is a different gig.

A lot of self-employed people tend to think they’re happier because they don’t have the obligations of a ‘job’. They work at what they want to do and therefore expect to be happier. (My observation of self-employed people is that they absolutely have a job but many haven’t realised it yet. And they’re not necessarily happier either.)

And how is the concept of happiness relevant for someone who works in the corporate world, doing the best they can five days a week? Do they start the day by having a conversation with their boss about their happiness?

And yet, research suggests that happy workers are more productive workers. Misery, angst and sorrow may be great sources of art, poetry and song but rarely help the daily worker get things done.

Are happiness and effectiveness interconnected then? Is it feasible to develop this Effectiveness Project without also exploring the impact of happiness? Can you have one without the other?


Using The Pause to tame The Ping

You know that sensation you feel that stops you from what you’re doing and entices you to check your email, or your social media feeds, or whatever has a call on you? Todd Henry calls it ‘the ping’.

Todd’s definition of the ping has been really useful for me. When he described it as a philosophy, it struck a chord: “Something out there is more important than whatever is right here”.

People say that if you call out and name a problem, you begin to weaken its hold on you. I think by recognising this impulse and actually labeling it, you’re in a much better position to get on top of it.

Hello Ping, we see who you are now, and soon, we’ll have you on the run!

It’s getting more difficult though. The connectivity revolution has meant that we can access pretty much anything in the world at any time from an electronic device that sits on our lap or in our hand. As we are fortunate to live in a truly wonderful world, it makes perfect sense that at any time, there’s something going on ‘out there’ that’s as least as interesting as we’ve got going on here, with the possible exception of when we are talking about ourselves!

Research is now revealing that the lure of email, social media etc. is as, if not more, addictive as the kind of drugs that have ruined lives for centuries. Why wouldn’t we be attracted to the unlimited excitement and fascination that awaits us in the big bad (online) world?

This is a problem, and one we need to tackle. Fast.

Back to Todd’s definition: he doesn’t use the word interesting or fascinating or entertaining. He uses the word important. And that’s good news. I’m not sure we can compete and win on grounds of fascination or entertainment but we can certainly decide for ourselves what’s more important. And this means we can own this problem, and take responsibility for it.

I’ve battled with the ping for a few years. I find some days I have him under control, other days I find him over-powering. But here’s something that I find works well for me. I’m going to call it ‘The Pause’. (why not name it and capitalize it, makes it seem very authoritative. Thanks Julien Smith, and others!)

I’ve noticed that when the ping hits and we stop what we’re doing to explore something else, it’s rarely a one-step process. Let me explain that by reminding you of your days of studying in a library. One minute you’re reading your book or scribbling on a page, then something distracts you, you look up and the spell is broken. It’s a one-step thing. You’re working, you look up, now you’re not working.

With electronic devices it tends to be a two or three step process. You stop what you’re doing, you click on something new, you wait for it to launch, then you’re off on another path. Sometimes you have to complete another step, press another button, enter a password etc. This is actually great because it creates some space for The Pause. And what is The Pause? It’s that moment when you realise when you’ve been pinged and you hold back before you commit to the distracting activity.

At first, it can be difficult to always do the right thing when you notice The Pause. You’ll probably find you’ll proceed to checking your email or Twitter or the news or whatever it is. But over time, you’ll begin to notice that you always have a Pause. And some of the time, you can actually back away from what you were going to do and go back to your work. The more you do this, the more strength you will build (some call this discipline or willpower) and you will be more likely to feel The Pause and then go back to work.

Environment matters a lot too. The more distractions that are within eyeshot, the worse the ping will be. All forms of reminders or alerts, apart from those which signal an appointment, are bad news. They are the highest form of the ping. As far as I know, it’s possible to disable all of these alerts. If they’re pinging you, get rid of them.

I’m learning a lot by working with a couple of our Smarter Egg circles on this topic. This stuff sounds so easy but it trips most of us up, most of the time.

(Image credit to Claudia Regina via Flickr)


Some lessons learned from being a daily blogger

A month ago I gave myself the challenge of developing a daily writing habit. The ‘experiment’ is now over and here’s what happened.

  • I did well. I wrote on all bar two of the weekdays in that time period. One day I didn’t work at all, the other day I was in reactive mode for the full day and it just didn’t happen. I think those misses are ok.
  • On two days I wrote but didn’t publish. Two factors here: getting into a topic that seemed to grow in front of my eyes and I couldn’t finish it in the time I had, and my feeling that what I had written just wasn’t good enough for publishing.
  • I didn’t always write first thing in the morning. I did that a lot in the first week or two but found myself getting looser on when I would write.
  • I found that I enjoyed it. Sometimes I would experience real frustration as I searched for a way to expand or wrap up a particular point but most of the time, it was a pleasure to write.
  • I found that I became more confident in my ability to express myself and to relate some of the ideas behind the work I do. We’re talking single digit percentages here but still, I could feel it.

There’s something big in that last point. Writing seems to help me clarify my thinking. When my thinking is clearer, I tend to express myself with more confidence and, obviously, clarity.

Of all the reasons to encourage me to continue with regular blogging, this is the one that appeals to me most.

And here’s a bunch of random things that may be of interest:

  • The number of visitors to the website increased. Yes, there were more good reasons to visit. My readership is quite modest compared to some of the high-profile writers but still, more people stopped by.
  • I used Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to share links to the posts. Twitter’s the easiest to use and tends to generate some conversation. LinkedIn seems to be effective in driving traffic. It appears to me that my LinkedIn connections are more likely to be interested in my writing than my Twitter followers. Google+ is the nicest platform to use but I only have a small number of connections there as yet.
  • I tend to include an image with the blog post. I don’t have the science behind this but it just looks better to me. But finding images can be a pain in the ass. And I’m probably breaking rules when I find them through Google image search. I even used some of my own.
  • Some days I wasn’t really bothered if anyone responded or commented. I felt like it was a nice piece of work and I had achieved what I wanted to achieve. Other days, I was hoping for some interaction. It didn’t always come.
  • There’s definitely a ‘pressure’ to perform when you set the expectation to do so on a daily basis. This can lead to an increased level of satisfaction when you get something good published early in the day but it can be an unwelcome additional headache as the day goes on.
  • I was surprised how easily some of the ideas came. Often, they would pop into my head the day before and I would kick it around before writing about it. Some days, I just opened up the laptop and wrote about what was on my mind. This suggests there’s a lot more good stuff waiting to be shared.

So, what next? For a variety of good reasons, I’ll continue to blog in a purposeful way. I think I’ll be able to manage three posts a week. Whether I need to stick to a first thing in the morning routine remains to be seen. Practically, I can’t do that every day even if I wanted to.

One element of the original challenge was to ‘tame the ping’. I was only partially successful in doing that. I developed the writing habit but it didn’t really tame the ping. I’m playing with two ideas on that: only engaging with social media etc. while I’m eating (I eat more than I realised!) and keeping a countdown timer that limits me to 30 minutes over the full day. We’ll see how that goes.

Onwards and upwards then. The challenge has given me the taste for it. I can see the benefits. So, am I allowed to call myself a blogger now?

A useful pause before you press ‘go’

I’m continuing to build up ideas for suitable practices and rituals to get the working day off to a great start. I’ve found useful habits for keeping the momentum going and for prioritising.

Now, I’m changing gears a bit, slowing it down and getting into a more reflective mood.

I’ve never been much of a ‘touchy-feely’ person. I’ve tended to just get on with stuff and deal with whatever came up. I found that I developed some touchy-feely muscles when qualifying as an executive coach. I had to get comfortable supporting someone when they moved into an introspective, reflective space.

I’m no longer ‘weirded out’ by it but I guess I still have my limits!

So, here’s something that I tried a couple of years ago at a time when I was struggling a little to build momentum behind my work and business. I’m not sure where I got the idea or the inspiration from but I developed a list of ‘reflections’ with which to start the day. I printed them out on a page and kept it near my desk so I spent a few minutes looking at them and thinking about them before whirring into action.

Here is what was on that page:

Sense of urgency
My time is not infinite
Today will never come again
Now is the time to act
I am at my best when I move with purpose

Clarity of purpose
Why am I doing what I’m doing?
What are my highest priorities?
What do I need to do today?

Self-belief & confidence
I believe in my own capabilities and skills
I am an accomplished, confident and assured professional
Whatever it is, I can handle it

Focus on achievement
It feels great when I accomplish something!
What am I going to achieve today?
What am I going to achieve this week?

Fun and enjoyment
It’s great to be able to choose what I do!
How can I have fun doing what I do today?

It’s interesting looking back on that now. Some of the things that were important to me then are no longer so. I can see a clear development in my confidence and clarity about what I’m doing. And I’m immediately curious as to what might be on my list now should I try to develop another one. And I guess in the spirit of the Effectiveness Project, I probably should!

If you had a list like this, what would you have on it?

If you’re spinning plates, keep ’em spinning

I tend to operate by spinning many plates at once. I’m not the kind of person who has one single focus and spends all of their time immersed in that. Given that I am actively managing and growing a business and working hard to delight multiple clients, it’s inevitable that I have a number of projects ongoing at any one time.

Sometimes, it can be hard to keep them all going. A setback in one can derail another. But here’s something that I’ve found to be very useful as a daily practice, whether it’s done at the start of the working day or at the end, with a view to teeing up the work for the following day.

Identify the next tangible action for each significant project and do what you have to do to get that done.

This is a powerful ritual on two fronts. First, it ensures that I’m making progress on my most important projects every day. It generates a real sense of momentum. Momentum generates more energy and more self-belief. Secondly, it forces me to think, at least daily, about what the next physical action is for those key projects. Sometimes we can get bogged down when we’re not clear on what the next step is, and most of the time that’s a function of our avoidance of hard questions and/or clear thinking.

A quick note: I use this for my ‘significant’ projects. Everyone will have their own definition of this. At present, I have five. All of those involve serving fee-paying clients. At times, I might have one or two less, or maybe a couple more. But once you go beyond that number, I think your focus will suffer. As it happens, per the GTD definition, I have approximately fifty projects defined. But it doesn’t bother me if some of these are left untouched for several days.

Daily progress on my most significant projects, with clarity of thought and purpose. Any ritual that produces that is worth the effort.

A question to start your working day

My immediate focus for my Effectiveness Project is to develop practices and rituals that make a real, positive difference to my work.

I’ve tried a bunch of different things over the years for starting the working day the right way. I’m going to revisit many of these in the next few days and will share them here.

This may be the simplest thing you can do: ask yourself the question,’if I could only achieve one thing today, what is it that would give me the greatest satisfaction at the end of the day?’

If you can find an answer to that question, the obvious thing to do is to start working on it right away. Make it the very first thing on which you take action.

And be smart about it. This isn’t a ‘world hunger’ question. This refers to specific tasks, projects or problems that are occupying your mind or are standing in the way of greater progress.

Funnily enough, it’s not always easy to find an immediate answer to this question. And maybe that’s why the question is so powerful. It forces us to check in on what our real priorities are.

Is there an effectiveness equation?

Mathematical equations are a wonderful thing. They are elegant and help us explain relationships in the physical world.

So, I was fascinated to read of Chip Conley’s new book ‘Emotional Equations‘. I had heard about it recently but was captivated yesterday by Bob Sutton’s review of it. It’s on my list of books I want to read now. This list is longer than it’s ever been!

It also got me thinking about the application of equations to the area of effectiveness and especially if there is, at the elemental level, an effectiveness equation. I think there is. And I think it’s the relationship between our desired outcome and what we actually achieve.

One thing still grates with me. I’ve written before about how it makes no sense to have effectiveness greater than 100%. This equation seems to suggest it’s possible to ‘over achieve’.

Just goes to show how difficult it is to whittle down our complex world into self-standing equations.

Knowing what to do when the game changes

I believe knowing what to do is as important as knowing how to do it when it comes to effectiveness.

David Allen, of GTD fame, often uses the image of the martial artist when speaking of the ideal state of mind and of preparation for tackling the world of work. I’ve never practiced any form of martial arts (although I do have a black belt in Lean Six Sigma – how wonderfully geeky of me!) but yet I get exactly what he’s talking about.

It’s about knowing what moves make sense in response to a particular challenge and it’s about having the presence of mind to respond appropriately.

For example, today I have a number of meetings arranged and got a late message this morning asking for one to be deferred. On another day, I might have been pissed off about this and focused on the likely waste of time that the postponement had caused. I may even have jumped onto Twitter and asked if anyone was up for a cuppa.

But, today, I was fine with it. That’s because I am clear on exactly what I need to be doing for the next few days work-wise and I had all the necessary tools with me (phone, laptop, notes, book etc.). It was just a fast, seamless change of focus and no real loss of time or energy.

So next time a change of plan causes you to have either a negative reaction or derails your productivity, stop and think about it. It probably means that you have work to do on figuring out what is the best use of your time and ensuring that you have the capability to act on it at a moment’s notice.

Do you think you’re not resilient or do you have an egg/basket design problem?

There are many traits that combine to determine our effectiveness and one such critical trait is resilience.

When I think of resilience, I think of our capability to bounce back from adversity. I think of an appropriate response to failure, and success. I think of our ability to persist when there are plenty of reasonable excuses to quit.

I used to think that resilience was a function of character. Some people are resilient, others aren’t. But now I’m not so sure. I’ve come to learn that our ability to cope is as much a function of how we design our approach to our work as any other factor.

If we let ourselves get into a situation where proverbially all our eggs are in one basket, then we may have a problem. If we’re over-dependent on winning a single client, or landing a particular job, or being assigned to a certain project, then it will be tough to handle the situation if it doesn’t work out.

The alternative is to distribute our ‘risk’ across multiple opportunities. If the client doesn’t sign up, then we can work with others. If we don’t get this job, then we can look at other options. If we’re not on this project, then we’ll prepare for a better one.

This is very much common sense. But we often lose sight of it. Experts in happiness speak of the importance of having a balanced approach to life. If we have strength in our work, our relationships, our family, our friends, our activities, then difficulties in any one of these at any time can be supported by the others. When people become overly focused in one area, then they are less resilient in times of crisis.

The same principle applies to our work. If we allow ourselves to get into a position of scarcity, where it’s all or nothing, then we’re at risk. Many gurus talk about abundance and the belief that there’s always potentially enough for everyone. And I think they’re right.

We will be more resilient, and likely more successful, if we develop our capability to work with multiple clients, if we grow our skills so that we’re capable of different roles and if we develop the reputation that will have us in demand for many different projects. This is often a conscious choice, a careful design rather than an accidental characteristic.

But, but, but…

It is possible to take this to an extreme. Some are guilty of hiding away from difficult decisions and clear thinking by pursuing so many opportunities that they have the convenient excuse of not having the time to do anything different. Try to avoid having all your eggs in one basket but equally, don’t keep endlessly adding to your collection of baskets.

Can it really be that simple?

When it comes to setting goals and objectives and developing a system to help achieve them, it appears that the best advice can be whittled down to a few key points.

  • Be clear, specific and tangible in setting the desired outcome
  • Ensure your goal has a bit of ‘stretch’ but not too much
  • Break the work down into small, achievable steps (not all at once!)
  • Work on it and move the thing forward every day
  • Build in some accountability by going public or enlisting the support/challenge of others


Is that it? Can it be that simple? If we do all of those things, then can we guarantee success?

I’m not sure you can ever guarantee success (even though many will try to sell you that) but I think following this advice will certainly allow you to make progress.



I often recoil from the ‘simple’. I tend to equate simple with basic, with common, with mediocre. I tend to think, “well if it was that simple, wouldn’t we all be doing it”. I tend to look for a more elegant, sophisticated solution.

And, you know, a lot of the time, I’m doing the wrong thing. We often over-complicate our lives. There are tons of reasons why we do so. One that recurs for me is to prove that I’m a deep thinker and an innovator by hanging on for the ultimate solution. How can I use basic stuff with all my fancy-shmancy education and my work with famous companies? Of course, this is classic ‘fixed mindset’ thinking, as defined by Carol Dweck. It’s not helping.

There’s a time for simple and a time for complexity. I often get them mixed up. (Seth Godin talks here about simple, complicated and nuance).