The teaspoon of doom

Your plans to keep the house tidy will work perfectly until the first teaspoon you leave by the sink. That gives permission to leave a mug next to it, which gives permission for the dirty plate and then, well, you might as well wash-up the dinner pans tomorrow.

And so it begins.

Dr. Kees Keizer, a Dutch social psychologist, led research which discovered the “broken window effect” – that when rules are seen to have been broken, it’s easier to break them yourself.

In fact, it’s better to have “no rule than one that no-one complies with … if there are broken windows in houses, it will lead to more disorder and a degrading neighbourhood”.

Keizer and his team left an envelope with an obvious €5 note sticking out of a postbox. It was taken by 13% of people when there was no litter or graffiti, but 25% of people when the postbox was vandalised with paint and 27% when it was surrounded by litter.

“When people think they can get away with it because other people already have, they do.”

If you’re trying to keep an empty inbox, failing to process three or four emails when they come in will make it easier to not process the next 20, 50, 1,000.

If, as a business owner, you start to mock your less-than-perfect clients, so too will your staff. A culture of disrespect will begin.

Making a rule, or beginning a habit, should be a serious decision. Each time you break one, you give yourself permission to break others, both now and in the future. Each time you say, “I’m going to…” and then don’t, you are surrounding yourself with litter.

Each deviation of the life you live from the life you proclaim will eat away at your confidence.

What’s your teaspoon? And what are you going to do about it?

Hiding in full view

Choose which friends you spend the most time with

One thing that’s impossible to do is to keep track of how often you don’t think about something.

By the very nature of tracking it (or not) you force yourself to think about it, and you only realise you haven’t thought about something when the thought happens: a sort of analytical Schrödinger’s cat for the mind.

This might be a bit much for a Monday morning, but let’s see where we go.

Arguably the best, healthiest friendships are those where you don’t keep track. You don’t keep track of when you last spoke, or who initiated contact, who paid for lunch or bought a drink. You just enjoy time together, when you both can.

Similarly you don’t keep track of how many friends you’ve got (or how you define them).

As soon as you start this you begin to analyse, to compare. To change, to act.

Most people on social media present a version of themselves – even if it is is subconsciously. Because we haven’t (yet) reached the stage where every moment of our lives is streamed online, what we share is inevitably filtered.

Facebook gives us somewhere to hide in full view. To pretend to be there, as Sherry Turkle wrote:-

“Whenever there is time to write, edit and delete there is room for performance.”

If a smartphone was almost anything else it might be considered a tool for mindfulness (and indeed software exists to make it so). See how people lose themselves so easily on trains and buses, in bars and cafes. That sort of zonal thinking is normally only associated with deep meditation; and yet do we return from such reverie feeling positive and refreshed?


Instead we immerse ourselves in the edited highlights of others’ lives. We see their most interesting updates, their posed photos, their fight for approval. We compare the mundane aspects of our only lives with the carefully selected moments of someone else’s.

The only expected result can be feelings of inadequacy. Feelings of resentment, jealousy. We are spending an unnatural time in one another’s lives, failing to reserve those vital moments to spend time with ourselves.

Perhaps there’s a fear of introspection. A fear of asking ourselves “Am I OK?”. Easier to hue green with envy or red with anger at another than to wonder, independently, how we might feel.

Perhaps slightly surprisingly, after all that, I’m not suggesting giving up Facebook, or social media, for a second.

I get a great deal of benefit from my Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin accounts. Too much to want to give-up. I learn about events, meet people, encounter new ideas. I share my own (reasonably edited) highlights, and enjoy seeing those of friends.

But I’m also reasonably ruthless with the information I allow myself to see…

The ‘unfollow’ button is your friend

Throughout life we encounter people we might just about want to keep in distant touch with (perhaps care enough about to not forget but probably would never make any effort to meet). The pre-social media equivalent is someone to whom you’d send a Christmas card but wouldn’t lose any sleep over if you didn’t get one back.

Filter who, and what, you see. On both Facebook and Twitter you can hide all updates from certain people without the indignity of unfriending them, assuming you wish to cause no offense.

Reduce the frequency with which you delve into the lives of others and increase the frequency with which you delve into your own; and if you’re scared to do so then there’s even more reason why you should.

There are many positives to social media, as a connector, as a way of sharing information, forging and maintaining friendships. But there is also a whirlpool of negativity, self-doubt and misery to be found.

As with anything else, the important thing is knowing when to stop.

Photo credit: davide vizzini

Coal mining

Next stop: Newcastle

[INSERT YOUR PROBLEM HERE] “is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

Strangely, I recounted that to a friend over lunch this week thinking it was a George Orwell quote, but it was written by Cheryl Strayed, of whom I’ve not read enough. What Orwell had to say will be along in a minute, so keep reading if you can bear the excitement.

The conversation was around how ridiculous it is to not get on with things. The absurdity of not being able to write a paragraph, code a function, create a design… turn up, do the work.

“We are spinning our own fates, good or evil… Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar” wrote William James some 130 years ago.

We read how others perform. How they manage their time. We absorb infographics of how artistic and literary greats structured every minute of their day. We plan how we won’t procrastinate in the future. We dream and we dither.

Success is largely about self-control. About creating positive habits and eliminating negative ones. It is about dealing with the conflicting emotions of risk: “I want to this, but I’m scared…”. Potential consequences are inevitably exaggerated in our minds; the imagined drama of failure defeats the potential joy of success just as rock dulls scissors.

Or bomb blows-up cow.

We should just work. We should just do. Achieve. Start. Complete.

George Orwell, in The Road To Wigan Pier, wrote:

“Why, then, do the [unemployed] make so little use of their talents? They have all the leisure in the world; why don’t they sit down and write books? Because to write books you need not only comfort and solitude … you also need peace of mind. You can’t settle to anything, you can’t command the spirit of HOPE in which anything has got to be created, with that dull evening cloud of unemployment hanging over you.”

Or, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Nothing any good isn’t hard”.

If you’re not achieving what you want to achieve, I’d wager good money that the problem isn’t your productivity tool of choice, nor is it your time management, CRM or any other system. It’s something deeper in your life. Perhaps you’re not doing the job you want to, or not making the difference you desire. You might need to make tiny changes or fundamental, huge changes.

Ultimately, you can either achieve your dreams, or not. You can create the life you want or choose not to. Look at the tiny things and the huge things in your life: everything in between will fit into place.

Spin your own fate.

Photo credit: Janet Lindenmuth

Defacing books

Be the book

I’ve stopped protecting my books. They are still precious to me – more so, since my move to Cambridge required a difficult thinning, although I prefer to think of it as a thickening, an intensifying, much a one reduces a watery broth to a thick, bubbling, glooping stock.

You might be unsurprised to hear, following that analogy, that quite a few cookbooks made it through.

I’ve long been unprotective of my cookbooks: I love the pink fingerprints accompanying the beetroot recipies; the splashes and stains imply practice, history, each is both a memory and a promise.

But I’ve always looked after the others. I’ve tried writing notes in notebooks, on pieces of paper, directly into my computer or mobile. The first two tend to get lost; the latter are an unwelcome distraction. I’m still in denial about books and screens mixing.

Instead, I now deface. Scrawls appear in margins, words and sentences are underlined. Somewhere near the front of each tome, my own personal index appears. Keywords or comments with page numbers.

I can glance inside a book and know what’s important; I can reread it to rediscover why – or, excitingly, to find new ideas because I am reading in a different state of mind, at a different time, in a different place.

It’s a pleasure which had never occurred to me before – or if it had, I’d quickly dismissed it, with the exception of a few old school books. But suddenly I become part of the book, I become anonymously ingrained in its history.

Wherever it goes, with or without me, I am with it.

Reading is a beautiful thing. Becoming a part of what you are reading, even in a small way, with a simple underline or a scratchy note, is beautiful too.

Photo credit: JD

“What the f*** are you helping him for?”

Mill Road bridge, Cambridge

I am embarrassed to be connected in any genetic way to the piece of human waste I encountered in Cambridge tonight.

I am embarrassed to be part of a human race, a race of which even one feels able to behave as if another was disposable.

I am embarrassed to be predisposed with even the tiniest hint of DNA to connect me to the pathetic excuse for a person who can stand within touching distance of another and behave as he did this evening.

I saw a man sitting, forlornly, in the street. A sleeping bag for warmth, barely, a feeble request for hope in his eyes and his throat.

I’d enjoyed a night of happiness, of warmth, of friendship. I’d enjoyed a night of privilege; an ability to spend thirty or forty quid – I don’t even know – on drink and food, on a Tuesday, and not even consider any blip on my financial radar.

I decided to turn back; to return and drop a pound in his hand. One pound sixty, in fact. Relatively worthless but it was – genuinely – all I had on me at the time.

As I did, a young lady crouched by his side, to ask if he was alright.

And as she did, and as I left, her companion mocked her, mocked him, the man she was helping

“What the f*** are you helping him for?” he laughed. His warm coat, his arrogant smile, his generations of privilege beaming down from his hateful face at another human.

Another human.

A person as literal, as exact, as real as he was. A person who had apparently, in his – the shitstain’s – mind, had chosen a windy, damp January night to sprawl upon the streets to see another first-month-midnight grace the depths of his bones.

A person whose last resort was that last resort of all: to beg, to cower, to tremble in hope of a proffered penny.

I can’t remember such anger raging inside me. I leant my bike towards him, drifted my shoulder an inch from his face and let him recoil. It sounds pathetic to recount; I did not fight, I did not face-up, but I did not act.

I hope, forever more, that he felt one billionth of the fear as he recoiled as that the one he mocked feels every night. I will regret forever not stopping, not confronting him. Not smearing his nose in the shit he shat. I will regret forever that he may spend his life not knowing who he truly is because one, after another, after another such as I fail to stop and stand, and stand-up and stop. I will regret the inch of my shoulder from his face; that it was not a non-inch; I will regret my neglecting to stop; I will regret the knowledge that he will be allowed – be encouraged – to laugh again.

I regret his youth. As insulting as that may be to any who are older. I regret he is the future. The privileged few the – yes, – the white man, the middle-class man in a coat like mine but with blood and soul as far removed as I dare believe. I regret his future, our future, the future. That such an atrocity to the human spirit could be committed on the genteel (!) streets of what I consider a beautiful city is both an abuse of our privilege and an abuse of our optimism.

People are, I think, good. I meet more people who make me happy than make me sad. Perhaps I’m lucky in that: many encounter the opposite, after all. But overall, despite the naysayers, the haters, the wasp-nest-pokers, the – let’s be honest – Daily Mail. Despite the miserable, angry, negative drain on our society that is perpetuated day-in, day-out by so many: we live in a beautiful world.

We live in a world of sunsets, of nature, of beauty, of people who give-up their time to help one another; people who donate more than just money, people who donate their hours, their days, their spirit, their soul. We live in a world where people come together, work together and grow together. But we live in a world of selfies-with-whales, of comparing the value of different human deaths, of abusing one another for the mere sake of difference in appearance, action or ability.

And yet, despite all that – WE have a say in the world. We have a say in OUR world.


YOU have a say in YOUR world.

Every action you take, every penny you spend, every pound you make: each is a vote for the world you want to inhabit.  It is a declaration that this is how you want the world to be. When you buy a plastic water bottle and throw it in the bin, you vote for waste. When you mock another you vote for a world of anguish. When you threaten, when you berate, when you ignore… you vote for exactly what you want, and we are all living through exactly what we’ve voted for, without ticking a single box on a single ballot paper.

What world do you live in? What world do you want? What world will you change?

What next?

Photo credit: Davide Taviani

I’ve decided to edit this for language, not because I feel I need to, but because a few people want to share it and didn’t feel they could. I felt it was more powerful and honest before, but would like people to be able to pass it on.


Every tired cliche must begin with a single step

I sometimes wonder where I’m going with these emails/posts. They started off purely about work. How to write blog posts, how to market your business, how to craft a perfect email subject line.

I sort of know: I’m planning – actively writing – a book. It’s in early stages, depsite the 200,000 or so words I’ve released into the ether since that day in September 2012 when I first used the word ‘daily’ and ’email’ together. There’s too much of a mish-mash to simply dump them all between a couple of bits of card.

Any useful contacts gratefully received.

Over time my subject matter – and I – have changed. Ironically, I write less about work than I used to, but seem to be doing more of it.

That’s fine. Everything changes, everyone changes. Even people who stay the same change, relative to the world around them. I’ll keep changing, so will my writing and so will everything and everyone around me.

Anyway, I wonder where I’m going.

Then I remember it doesn’t matter. The beauty, the thrill, the fun – they’re all in the journey. Like life, like travel, like any achievement: to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Gold medal winners often experience a dip after they’ve won at the Olympics. You’re there, you’ve made it. What is there to do next?

You might achieve something great today, you might not. You might take a step towards, or away from, everything you want to achieve in life. You might change the world, create havoc or just drift on through. Or a bit of everything.

But whatever it is, it’s yours, so enjoy.

Photo credit: Elliott Brown

Childlike glee

But who invented it?

If you want to be happy, be inquisitive. Look at life with a sense of wonder. Embrace your Ws and Hs.

What does this do? Why does that happen? How does it work? Where can I find out…

We live in an astonishing time where the answer to almost everything is just a question away. Whilst some argue this takes away the mystery of live, I find the opposite is true: every question leads to an answer which leads to more questions. Every nugget of information is an opportunity to empathise with its original discoverer. How someone discovered making fire, glass, electricity… milking a cow. That’s always a slightly odd one.

It frustrates me to hear people say “I’ve always wanted to know…” because if you want to know something you can find out.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch a child learn. To see the expression of excitement and wonder on their face as they make each new discovery. I can still vividly remember making a table tennis ball jump forward and then spin back by pushing down on it – it felt like I was the first person ever to make such a discovery.

As you eat, consider where your food comes from. How it grows, how it gets to you. As you travel, think about how your vehicle works, what has gone into its creation. As you work and play, rest and relax, take a moment to wonder how you are able to do whatever you’re doing.

Care about the world around you. Not just the big stuff, the minutiae of life which makes the world so fascinating. The more you care, the more you’ll look after it – the world, your world – and the happier you’ll be.

Photo credit: Georgie Pauwels

Don’t make pasta in anger

Just take a break and switch on the (taglia)telly

I knew, really, when I went to bed last night that I’d need a decent amount of sleep. That my usual early alarm just wouldn’t do.

Instead of listening, I left the alarm as it was, awoke to and dealt with its gnawing chimes then curled up for another ninety minutes.

Beginning the day with a broken promise.

Your brain, your body, your subconscious, your eyes, your mouth: each is constantly giving you information about the world around you and yourself. It’s up to you whether you ignore each snippet or not; it’s up to you how you respond.

If your body tells you your tired, or your brain that you’re angry: do you carry on as normal? Do you take on that difficult task? Or, do you step back and give yourself a break, or work on something simpler?

It’s easy to convince yourself that you will stay in on a sunny Sunday morning and get some work done. Then when you try to, you’re distracted, impatient and unproductive. Far better to be honest with yourself that it’s a waste of time and make sure you’re fresh and ready to start again on Monday.

I once decided, towards the end of a long, difficult day, that it would be a great idea to make fresh pasta for dinner. Of course it failed. Of course it worsened my mood. Of course it was a bad idea and I should have listened to myself.

Whilst sometimes we do of course have to just knuckle down and get on with things, if you’re able to act according to your emotions, then you should try to. Listen to yourself, and be honest with yourself. Be realistic.

Photo credit: Leon Brocard

Ideals of ideas

Keep track of your ideas

What do you do when you have more ideas than time?

There’s a very limited amount of time available in each day, and in each lifetime. An idea, however, takes an instant to appear but can take a lifetime to deliver, if anything even happens at all.

I remember when the now-closed (it was still running?!) Friends Reunited first hit the headlines, how many people said to me “I had an idea like that, if only I’d…”. They were only outnumbered by the queues offering me shares / exposure / £100 or so to help them turn unrealistic ideas with unrealistic budgets into unlikely outcomes.

Time as a finite resource is no surprise – in spite of the way many of us act – but it’s something I’m acutely aware of at the moment as I’m suffering from a bit of an overflow of ideas.

But, as Derek Sivers wrote: “Ideas are just a multiplier of execution”. A weak idea with brilliant execution will still be more successful than a brilliant idea with zero execution.

But what to do with new ideas? There are a few options:

Forget it
Wait a day or two, see if you still like the idea, or whether it was one of those which like a world-changer at first but are completely impractical. If it’s not going to work, forget about it.

Do it
Take action. Make something happen. Depending on the size of your idea, it could be anything from the whole thing, to a small part to start progressing it or even just sketching out a plan.

Park it
Make a note of it and put it aside to come back to. It’s helpful if you can leave some space for adding extra notes as you have ideas: use something digital such as Evernote, Onenote, Trello, or have an “idea per page” notebook. Whether or not you schedule a date to return to it is up to you, but might be an indicator of your confidence and enthusiasm.

Team up
If you don’t have the time, skills or motivation, find someone who does and work with them. Delegate!

Pass it on
Give (or sell) the idea to someone else to take and run with.

Photo credit: George Redgrave

A year in Cambridge

My own photograph, for once

Life can drift by, it can flash by and it can drag on. Days can feel like years; years can feel like days. We make plans, we dream, we do, we don’t, we succeed, we fail. We change, we stagnate, we settle: contentedly, anxiously, foot-tappingly. We know, deep down, what is right for us and what is not.

I arrived in Cambridge, fresh-faced and optimistic, exactly a year ago yesterday. I’d moved to rural Devon, then Cornwall, in my mid-twenties and, ten years later, it was time for a change.

Unequivocally, it’s been a good move for me. Whilst there are parts (and people) of the south west I miss, there is so much here to excite and inspire. I’ve seen my confidence grow: I never, ever thought I’d sing and play guitar on stage, certainly not with a song I’d written.

There’s not really a big message here, and I apologise for the slight self-indulgence, but perhaps its helpful to know you can change a life that isn’t quite working. To know you can start afresh, anywhere (even if you have spent your whole life saying you could never live in a big town or city). Ironically, I believe that such knowledge can give you the confidence to stay put: knowing you can change makes it less risky not to.

So to everyone who has helped me, welcomed me, kept in touch, kept on reading these blog posts, kept me level-headed and allowed me to not be: thank you.

And there are exciting times ahead, too: watch this space.