Saturday, 7 June 2014

Moving my posts

I am in the process of moving my posts from this blog to my proper website. All the posts I want to keep have been copied over and I am gradually updating the original posts on here with links to the new site. I am deleting some 'time expired' posts from here and not moving them as they have no relevance to anything anymore! In the meantime, please find my website at:

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Whiteboards as an aid to productivity

The whiteboard as an aid to productivity

I would really welcome your views on this topic, whether you are someone who benefits greatly from some items, and from anyone who has a role in designing office spaces and does not consider provision of adequate whiteboard / blackboard space as essential for improving staff productivity, or, indeed, if you don't accept that it enhances productivity!

I work from home now and invested in a large whiteboard (unfortunately not as huge as I wanted as they were out of stock!) a few months back. I love it, it boosts my productivity no end, if I have a client at home, instead of feeding back verbally what they say, I use it to write up what they say - maybe in 'mind map' style and their minds explode with new insights. I use it for planning, all sorts. I keep a standard daily tick list down the right hand side and use the rest for my scribble.

In my last corporate place of work, we were in big open plan offices with zero wall space and had nowhere at all to work out options, plans, make links between different things, blast out ideas, brainstorm etc other than by booking one of 3 meeting rooms in advance, so no sponteneity. I was forced to do anything like that on A3 pieces of paper sitting at a 'breakout' table in the back of the office or at my desk.

Since getting my home whiteboard, I realise that the lack of availability of a whiteboard in my last job had a detrimental impact on being able to do the best job I could (though I was pretty darn good anyway!) and probably on a lot of other people in jobs requiring deep thought.

Anyway, purpose of my post, I am writing an article on the whiteboard as an aid to productivity and what to get the thoughts of you good people! What are your experiences?

(If you use a blackboard, that's just as relevant, anything you can scribble on 'large' and rub out easily!)

I'd love it if you comment below or here on this thread on Steve Pavlina's forum.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Macaroni Metaphors

This post has moved permanently

New home: Rock Pebbles Sand: Macaroni Metaphors

A spoken word version of the post is also available there.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

CoolBeesPlace Radio Show!

This is an idea that has been buzzing around in my head for sometime so today I thought - why not - give it a whirl! Nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end!

So I set up an account on BlogTalkRadio. This is completely free to use and enables you to host and schedule live radio shows. People can listen to your show streaming on the internet, and can call in either by phone (to a New York number - but you can do it from Skype) or direct from the show page by clicking the 'call the show' button which appears once a show is in progress.

I asked a couple of friends if they were free - one in the UK and one in the US, scheduled a 15 minute show for 2pm Egypt time, and went out live and unscripted at the given time - with a general chat about coaching.

You can check out the results - it worked much better than I expected but there are some teething troubles around me getting used to working the 'switchboard'. There may also be problems if I drop my internet connection during a show but if it happens, I'll just have to deal with it.

I've scheduled another show for tomorrow morning with a guest - Andrew Jenkins - and shall add more to this post after that!

Well - show 2 occurred this morning. As dreaded, my internet connection dropped for a couple of minutes so I went in to minor panic mode. I need to deal with it better! If I am coaching and the line drops, I reboot as quickly as possible and get straight back on to the call with no messing about with sorry sorry sorry. It rarely happens to be fair but is always a risk with internet calls - but having said that, these days it often happens with mobile phone calls, so I think people are much more forgiving about such things these days than they used to be.

I got back on to the session as soon as I could but if you listen to the unedited show there's a segment where it goes blank and there's a few 'hello' 'hellos' back and forth. I was interested that Andrew (as a guest) was able to stay online for part of it so I'm not sure if he had stayed on through the gap whether it would have continued to stream at that point or not. It might be worth scheduling a private show with someone (which then doesn't appear in the On Air guide but can be downloaded if you choose) to test a few of these things out.

Andrew and I have decided that we will run a regular show in future - we'll keep it at 15 minutes for now. I think it will be better to gain experience then up the length. We both need to improve our presentation skills I think!


Andrew Jenkins:


NLP Business Solutions

BlogTalkRadio (takes you through to my radio show)

Listen to CoolBeesPlace on internet talk radio



Monday, 19 January 2009

Time Management: Regaining Focus and Time Control

For the past few weeks, I’ve been drifting a little again in work terms. This is something that happened to me a few weeks after I first moved from the UK to my current home in Cairo. I thought this was related to having been focused on emigration matters for 6 months, getting here, then a period of intense activity relating to getting essential items such as electricity, internet, phones etc sorted out, followed by an energy slump and lethargy now focus had gone.

I spent 3 weeks in that phase, it would get to evening I felt that I had achieved nothing all day – at first that’s great – after all, why change your life not to be able to drift about – but I was beginning to find it STRESSFUL. Yes, that’s right. You heard me right – doing nothing all day for a prolonged period is STRESSFUL. It wasn’t boredom – I can happily while away many hours checking things out on the internet, reading books, but I am the sort of person who needs to feel that I’ve made progress on something (but see posts yet to come on ‘living in the now’ coaching).

Its just occurred to me that as I’ve just had the same kind of drifty/lethargic feeling at exactly the same time of year, maybe it wasn’t just that, and maybe its a seasonal item that I need to ‘budget in’ to my working year? I guess it would have been hidden back in the UK because its a time of year when I would quite often have 2 weeks off work – with all the bank holidays, I could get 2 weeks off for the ‘price’ of 4 days annual leave! And thinking back through my whole life, school, university, academia etc, this has always been downtime.

There are a number of reasons this could have hit again this year. The holiday season here started with Eid Al Adha – a couple of weeks before the UK Christmas – so many Egyptian shops and businesses were closed. We then entered the UK/US Christmas & New Year time so UK /US clients were not around - though I infact taught for 3 hours on Christmas Day evening! - and I also took a short break away down to Luxor. The following week there was the Coptic Christmas – again a public holiday for many Egyptian businesses.

Dealing with a focus-blocker issue

Another part of the reason, though, for this down period is that we have been under the cloud of a visa issue which has taken a lot of my mental (and emotional) effort.

Two weeks ago, I finally did what I should have done more or less at the start and approached the various considerations in a methodical, analytical way. I assigned each of the possible options a cost in $US, a risk grade (low – medium – high), a benefit grade (LMH) and a ‘hassle factor’ grade (LMH) and used a self-devised formula SCORE = COST X RISK X HASSLE / BENEFIT where the lower the score the better the option. From this I ranked my top 3 options according to probability and made my action plan in the event of different scenarios. Since doing that just over a week ago, I have been able to start drawing focus back to moving forward.

Last week, I basically ‘kept up’ with existing commitments, and from today am reapplying a technique which worked very successfully for me last year and might be worth trying if you are conscious that you are time-wasting – don’t have time to finish a project but do have time to spend 4 hours every day messing about on Facebook or internet forums!

What work structure works for me?

The essence of my technique was this: a realisation that I spent a long time in a corporate environment and that whether my mindset was moulded by that environment or whether my mindset existed already and suited that environment, it was a good basis for me to regain control over time.

I decided to consider myself as a large company and decided on a name – lets say it was CoolBee’s Amalgamated Megacorp PLC. Note – this is NOT A REAL COMPANY. I drew the ‘company name’ out on a large sheet of paper and pinned it on the office curtain.

Time structures - hours of work, holidays, regular days off

I then had an ‘away day’ with myself to do some planning about how many hours a week/year I wanted to work, how much ‘annual leave’ I should allow myself, whether I wanted to set definate days each week for my days off (bearing in mind that my clients have weekends which vary across the world – Sat/Sun in the UK and US (but with a timeshift), Thur/Fri in the Gulf, Fri/Sat in Egypt – and some of my clients prefer to have their sessions on their weekends, or in their evenings. As most of my working friends here only have Friday and Saturday off (and Fridays here is worship/family day – like the traditional British Sunday) - working on Saturdays would kill my social life and I didn’t change my life so drastically to still not be able to have a social life!

I decided to block out Saturdays - and fixed on Tuesday as my second day off. I’ve managed to hold to that most of the time, but if for some reason I can’t, then I will take Wednesday instead. This was a very good move because I do some teaching in an adult education place here a couple of evenings a week and they are always badgering me to work on Saturdays. Having taken the decision to absolutely not work on Saturdays makes refusing a LOT easier as does fixing on Tuesdays (but willing to be flexible as long as I can substitute Wednesday instead in any given week).

Just also to note, it is crucial for me, personally, that I have at least one 36-hours straight period OFF the computer every week. This normally extends from late Friday night round to Sunday afternoons. I try to take 2 of these a week. Part of this is to do with my eyes where I get headaches behind my eyes and flicking eyelids if I don’t make sure that I do this. (I also make sure that every year I have at least one entire 7 day break away from computers – no email checking, nothing.)

Additionally, given the nature of a portfolio career, I decided that fixing regular working times each week was probably doomed to failure – when I am booked for the adult education place it is often last minute, I am often not told how many weeks I am needed for, the hours will vary between 6pm and 10pm, and terminates unexpectedly!

Here, The Customer is King! And while in the UK if you wish to study a course, an institute will tell you – we run it on Tuesday nights 6-8pm if you want to do it, that’s when you have to come, in Egypt they will spend hours and hours of effort optimising the time for all the people who want to do the course (after all, they’re paying) and then call you last minute and say ‘can you start teaching this course tonight’(to which I have a fixed answer called “No” – even if I am free).

Having considered all the reasons for changing my life, I decided that instead of fixing a regular annual leave allowance, and fixed working hours, I would aim at a 1200 hour working year, and aim at covering 30 hours a week.

(Having said that, one of my goals this year is to work towards regularizing hours as I want to experiment with setting regular ‘surgery’ hours to be available on Skype or messenger for clients to just make short calls and so on as well as pre-booked longer consultations.)

Having also just noted that my ‘drifting’ phase in the past few weeks coincides with last year’s – I am wondering whether to plan for it next year – perhaps by having a reduced work goal for that time.

What constitutes WORK?

Next, I decided what elements of things I wished to achieve across the whole of my life would classify as ‘work’ and which wouldn’t. When you have a portfolio career and your time is more or less all your own, this can be a little hard! When is checking your email ‘work’ and when is it ‘play’ (note the word play here does not necessarily mean fun – it just means ‘not bookable as worktime’!)? I have a number of email accounts and internet forums which serve a purpose for both work and play so I decided to deal with this by allowing myself just 30 minutes a day of email and forum checking to constitute WORK. So I can spend 4 hours on it if I like, but then 3.5 hours will be out of my playtime.

When I first started doing this a year ago, I had a list of activities. As achieving my 30 hours a week became more and more comfortable and indeed excessively exceeded some weeks, I began to trim back on the list of task-types which were allowed to count as WORK and which weren’t.

I triaged activities along the lines of ‘this is definately work’ ‘this could be work or play’ ‘play’. As a guide, I thought of all those activities which, had I been in my last corporate post, I would have had to carry out outside of work, as play.

However, I also considered items such as the role of training – how many training courses would I normally have been expected to attend as part of my working year – which of my learning activities eg Arabic, further qualifications etc, were now in the position of work-related training and which were still play?

What about Research & Development? I spend a lot of time researching articles and so forth to inform my coaching, develop new techniques and so on – but as I love doing this, there was a danger I could spend my entire work time (and more besides) reading around the subject.

I decided to tackle this by considering how in my last position, my team had worked on a 4-week cycle – week 1 – all the inhouse reporting, week 2 – external reporting, analysis and so forth for external stakeholders, week 3 – meetings meetings meetings, and week 4 – ‘creative’ time when I would encourage my team to play around with fresh ideas and techniques to improve our services to our stakeholders. On this basis, I allowed myself to book 25% of my time on a weekly basis to R&D – so if it was a week I achieved 40 hours work, 10 hours were allowed to be R&D, but in a week where I only did 20 hours, only 5 hours were allowed to be R&D. Of course, I could do 50 hours if I like but that would then be play time.

Making it work

Essential tools: unless you already have a time-monitoring system linked to your billing, e.g. if you are already working as an accountant, solicitor or whatever, you just need a sheet of paper with a column for ‘date’, ‘description’, ‘department’, ‘time’ and a regular kitchen timer.

Set your target hours for the day. For the first week, I decided on 3 hours a day. On the second week, I upped this to 6 hours – it was NOT easy! The first day I did it – and I was determined to – it took me 18 hours to get through 6 bookable hours.
Decide the first thing you are going to do, get yourself prepared to start it, and set the timer for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, write down – what you were doing (e.g. checking emails and forums), department (Communications), time (30 mins). Then do another 30 minutes (e.g. writing up notes from coaching session) department (Business Activity - Coaching), time (30 mins), etc etc..

Don’t set your departments in stone before you start, and don’t forget essential things such as planning, finance etc! If you have worked in a corporate before, it might be worth considering the departments you are aware of and seeing where your activities may fit.

Here’s the list I ended up with after the first 3 months of doing this – in no particular order!

  • Facilities – office cleaning, set up, maintenance etc!

  • IT – setting up the computers, downloading essential updates (for work-related software not games!)

  • Finance – doing the books (personal as well as business counted here)

  • HR – CV writing, assessing training requirements, choosing courses etc. Deciding on dress codes etc! Are pjs in the office acceptable or not if you work from home?

  • Strategic Planning – what was my overall plan for the business etc

  • Administration – filing, booking courses etc – I time limited this to a maximum of 2 hours a week.

  • Chief Executive - one-to-ones (a half hour check in once a week to review progress in the previous week, ongoing projects, difficulties/challenges), away days (go and work somewhere else on an issue – eg on the sofa, at a cafe – essential to define the issue first!) , quantitative analysis and reporting on activities.

  • Company Secretary – essential legal/statutory stuff

  • Training – CPD, Arabic, essential software

  • Communications – emails, voicemail, forum checking. No more than 30 minutes a day - and no roll-over allowed! (A response to an email, for example, might come under one of the Business Activity items depending on content).

  • Business Activities – Coaching, Blogging, Teaching, Other

  • Business Development – Marketing etc relating to Business Activities

  • Research & Development – related to Business Activity areas. Time limited to 25% of bookable time in any one week.


This proved to be very useful for me because I was then able to analyse my activity in terms of working IN and ON the business, PRODUCTIVE and OVERHEAD work and so on and so forth.

It also got me up to a decent amount of working hours within the first 3 weeks of doing this. I kept it up for several months by which time it had become very easy to achieve and exceed my hours, so I stopped the monitoring – after all, I was no longer a sad Corporate animal, I was a free agent..... suffice to say I now find myself in the position of thinking I need to reboot the system. Its a tool I need now and then when I hit a recognizable dip in ‘achievement energy’.

Monday, 12 January 2009

When is it ok to hate?

Living out here in Egypt on the edge of the current conflict between Israel and Palestine, we are deeply affected by the images we see daily on the various news channels. It is particularly interesting to compare the news reporting on the different channels - BBC World, Al Jazeera, CNN - and the 'hidden biases'.

This is not, however, the point of this post. Someone on a forum that I belong to asked the question "When is it OK to hate?". I thought about this long and hard and I think it makes a good coaching topic. First you need to clarify whether your hatred is of a SITUATION in which it can be a good motivator to action to rectify that situation, or of a PERSON or PEOPLE where I can't think of a single situation where it serves a good purpose.

Hatred (of people - assume I mean this for the rest of this post) is a very strong emotion and can either hold us back by keeping us emotionally buried in the past, reciting a continual ritual chant of all the wrongs the other person did to us, or by motivating us into some action that goes against our own inner code while 'under the influence' of the need for revenge or vengeance.

This is my view:

When is it OK to hate?

My initial answer is: It is never OK to hate. It is a painful, destructive emotion that eats at your soul. (By the way, I have done my share of hating so I’m not holding myself up as some kind of Mother Figure here who glides in a loving, positive-thinking cloud through life!!!)

Then I guess I have to qualify this - it is not ok to hate people but it is ok to hate a situation.

If you hate a situation - then this can be constructive if it leads you to do something positive to change it - eg global warming or some such.

However, I think what we are discussing here is hatred of people.

Hatred of people comes from feelings of anger, fear, jealousy, betrayal, to some extent because we believe that in the same situation we would certainly not have behaved in the same way as the subject of our hate has behaved.

However, it is also NOT ok to DENY your true emotions because that too can lead to problems. Hatred is a completely understandable emotion, but I think if you are feeling intense hatred, then eventually you have to stop yourself from constantly revising the litany of actions etc which led to the hatred. It won't help anything and just continues to drag YOU down - not affecting the object of your hate.

It is not OK to act on your feelings of hate, put brain in charge of heart - acknowledge your feelings, acknowledge that actions carried out while you are feeling like that may not be the best thing to do - you may inflict some harm on someone who is innocent in feelings of revenge and then when your hatred abates suffer enormous guilt over it and realise it was a wrong action by you.

If your personal inner belief and value structure is geared around 'an eye for an eye' then let it be the correct eye - the eye of the person WHO CARRIED OUT THE ACT (or their 'Lord and Master' if they are obeying orders), not on a random person who shares the same creed or race.

EG current conflict in Gaza, many thousands of Jews around the world (including some Zionists) are against the actions of Israel - yet they will all be hated 'en masse' for something outside of their control.

During the 1970s many innocent Irish people were abused and reviled by British people because of the vile actions of a few in the IRA.
Ordinary Americans are hated because of the war in Iraq - again over which they have no control.

There was a very interesting documentary on the BBC a couple of years ago called ‘Five Steps to Tyranny’ showing how ordinary people can be manipulated into complicit groups. How all of us who say ‘we would never have let it happen’ are probably wrong and we probably would have.

Step 1 – Us and Them YouTube video of Step 1 - start distinguishing a ‘different’ group of people

Step 2 – Obey Authority YouTube video of Step 2

Step 3 – Do Them Harm YouTube video of Step 3

Step 4 – Stand By (Apathy) YouTube video of Step 4

Step 5 – Exterminate YouTube video of Step 5

When you become aware of the steps, then it is scarey to see it happening – when you observe how the reactions, statements of friends and family who are really nice people by the way! - start to follow down this path. Should they be hated because of this?

Ranulph Fiennes wrote a fascinating book called "The Secret Hunters" which explores some of the ways in which the German people were manipulated during the second world war and compares this to how ordinary people were manipulated to becoming complicit in the Rwanda and Cambodia mass-exterminations.

The Secret Hunters by Ranulph Fiennes

So, in summary, I guess I am saying - no, its not OK to hate people. However, it is a perfectly understandable emotion/reaction to things going on. Acknowledge your true feelings. Do not act upon them in an irretrievable way that goes against your own inner values and beliefs.

So what do I do if I feel consumed by hate?

I've been thinking about this aspect, too. I've devised a '10-step plan to deal with hate' - see below.

Well I guess if you were revelling in and 'enjoying' hating you wouldn't be worried about this at all so I'm going to assume that you are at a point where you are willing to consider giving up your hatred but don't know where to start.

You could do this over a number of days:

1. Acknowledge your feelings

First off acknowledge your feelings. It would be an injustice against yourself to deny what you are feeling and if you try to mask them totally (including from yourself) could lead to all kinds of problems later on - physical or mental. Write them down if you feel the need (as long as you burn the list afterwards and don't post it anywhere!) HINT if you want to write it as an email, put your OWN email address in the 'to' box before you start - just in case you accidentally press 'send'!

2. Examine your physical feelings.

Examine the physical symptoms you have. Work along your whole body - what does your skin feel like, how are your muscles, what postures are you adopting - how does your stomach feel, your head? Are you muscles clenched and tight, is your head hot and full?

3. Examine the thoughts in your head.

Examine the thoughts in your head - try and stand apart from yourself and objectively look at your thoughtstream.

4. Consider the evidence.

What exactly is it that the 'other side' did that got you feeling this way? Write it all down.

5. Assess the evidence.

From each item that you noted in step 4 - what can you personally do about it? Your initial answer may be 'nothing'. For example you may feel fury at the actions of another person remote from you. Initial answer - nothing. Is there anything you can do either to try to prevent that action taking place again, or to alleviate the effects of that action? You may feel pretty powerless at this point, but let it sink in. Think about charities or causes you could sign up to, protests you could make. These things can and do add up in an incremental way to affect government or big countries.

6. Examine hatred for an individual

If you feel hatred towards a specific individual, how does your hatred of them affect that individual? Do they know? Do they care? How does it affect YOU?

7. Review your physical symptoms

Pick one of those that you would like to alleviate. Suppose you are going round clenching your left fist. Try to become aware of each time you are clenching that fist and make a conscious effort to unclench it. Massage your wrist too if it helps.

Work on them one at a time - each for a few days.

Alternatively, start making a conscious effort to spend 15 minutes a day doing relaxation exercises. In coaching we use techniques called 'state management' to try to change your state of mind. For example stand with your shoulders back, your head erect, smile and say 'I'm so unahppy about all this'.. what do you notice?

8. Review your thoughts.

Write the thoughts you have down (if you haven't already). Pick the one you think it would be easiest to tackle. From exercise 5 - what can you do about this either to stop it now, prevent it happening in future, or deal with its consequences? Try working on that now. Again, one at a time, each for a few days.

9. Itemise your 'reasons to hate' list.

List them all down on a piece of paper - you're probably reminding yourself of the list every day in your head anyway! Look at the list. Find the easiest thing to deal with. Examine the reason every which way, as in exercise 8 what can you do about it? Now, let it go. Cross it out. If you are the sort of person who finds rituals help, maybe design a 'letting go' ceremony for yourself, write the item of hate on a separate piece of paper and either burn it in a candle flame or send it off down a river somewhere!

10. Find one good thing about the hate object.

Rack your brains, google, whatever - find one good thing about the wrong doer, write it down, and hold that thought in your mind for a moment or two. Even if its as trivial as 'she has nice blue eyes' or a more meaningful 'their doctors helped the wounded on the other side'.

Find one new thing a day until you have a list of 10 good things. Review the list 2 or 3 times a day - maybe keep it on a card in your purse or wallet. You can do it in a code known only to you if you like if you would be too embarrassed for anyone else to see it!

11. Write and tell me if this works as I only just came up with it.

email me

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Motivational Tools

Different things work for different people. Here are a few I have come across which may prove useful for you. Use is, of course, entirely at your own risk!