The critical importance of a lasting change process

September 9, 2016

We often define change that we’d like to see, even implement change in a positive way. But how many times do things waver or even completely disintegrate so that 2 years, 2 months, even 2 weeks later, the initial enthusiasm and adherence of the new way has evaporated and things are back the way there were before.

In this video, taken from the Foundations of Success Workshop, I share one of LMI’s foundational concepts – the critical importance of securing lasting change through spaced repetition.


I knew the rules but not how to win!

February 18, 2015

In our house board games are big! We love them!

The old classics – Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble. There are some fantastic new kids on the block, our current favourite being Sequence.

One of the kids’ birthdays recently yielded a new delight – a game called Scotland Yard. There is great excitement in the house when a new game is being unveiled and the learning of the rules followed by those first few run-throughs is an almost-sacred ritual!


On this occasion I was not around when the cellophane was pierced and the game learnt. Neither was I present for the second and third outings. The rest of Team Howes had become fairly well versed in this new entertainment and I was at a significant disadvantage.

Finally I get to play and the kids explain the rules to me. This piece moves here. This card does that. You can’t lay this card when that happens. You must collect six of these before you can do this.

Ok, I think I understand the rules. But what’s the aim of the game? How do I win?

This was the bit that was not so well explained by the kids in their eagerness to get started…and beat me!

I find myself in the middle of the game, asking questions as we go and squinting at the tiny instructions without my glasses to try and make sense as we went along as to how the game eventually gets won.

Work can feel like that. Sometimes for the owners / leaders…often for staff. I know what I’m supposed to be getting on with, but how do we win? What does success look like? How does today, or this week really count?

We want (and for our own well-being, need) to succeed. Victories keep us fresh, energised and creative. Knowing the rules without having a clear and imminent sense of a goal to reach, a finish line to cross, it’s drudgery and no-wonder the productivity levels aren’t what they could be.

Whether it’s for yourself, or for those you lead, make it clear where the next finish lines to cross are, and make a deal of it when the tape is broken. Mine today was a short list of ‘Must do today’ tasks, the last of which was writing this blog. My prize – I’m off to make a fresh pot of very nice coffee!

#FreeMyFriday – Start with a list

February 13, 2015

It’s Friday, which, in my world immediately poses one question: is my Friday free?

For some time now I’ve been really focused on helping managers and leaders to seriously improve their productivity to the extent that they have a whole extra day each week, typically Friday though sometimes taken in a couple of half days or shorter regular slots, to concentrate entirely on the the important development work that will improve or move things forward in significant ways. The key to this is the implementation of proven techniques and finding innovative new ways to get the usual five days’ work done in four so our heads can emerge from the day-to-day and consider the bigger picture.

Don’t we all face the massive challenge of handling the myriad of stuff that comes our way every day, spinning those plates as best we can just to keep our heads above water?

Doesn’t that continually leave us with that irritating (sometimes downright depressing!) feeling that genuinely important work that would make a big difference if we could only get time to do it, lies untouched for yet another week?

This is what #FreeMyFriday is all about and it starts with making that list.

Start with writing a really clear and concise list of the things you would love to get round to doing – things like going after new customers, training your team members, taking your team out to lunch, designing some new product or service offering, reading more, perhaps even finishing early and taking the kids out after school…the list will be specific to your role and the demands of the business you’re in. But do – for goodness sake – go ahead and write it!

It’s just the beginning, but it’s a super-important beginning. Being clear about where you want to go has an incredible way of enabling you to find solutions to the challenges that prevent you from getting there.

Have a fantastic Friday…and maybe now even you could start writing the list of what you’d like to be doing this time next week?

The Alignment Triangle

December 10, 2014

Following on from the last post about the need for the large Tube map and the single line plan, here’s my ‘Alignment Triangle’ diagram which illustrates an effective process for keeping today’s activity aligned with the’Big Picture’ aims of the organisation. Every company knows they should be doing this, but I’ve come across very few that are systematically implementing this on a continual basis. That’s why a simple model to follow can really help.

Alignment Triangle

The Big Picture – start with defining the Mission, Purpose, Vision and Values (this is no twenty minute exercise – take time to do this well).

Create a Master Goals List – this is the place to record every significant goal that will help move your organisation towards the defined and agreed Big Picture.

Monthly Goals & Priorities – a refined and repeatable format to clarify the goals and priorities for Dec 2014 or Jan 2015 is essential. The Master Goals List will have far too much on it to be able to focus effectively. We suggest a 2 – 3 hour monthly planning process to set each month up so everyone knows exactly what they are shooting for in that 30 day period.

Daily Organising – it’s only when the above steps are done really well that organising your daily activity can be super-effective. Again, a repeatable format for planning your day in line with the monthly goals is essential for optimising performance.

Eight stops to Swiss Cottage

December 8, 2014

The scene was one I’m sure you’re familiar with. Hundreds of people swarming off the train having just arrived at a London Mainline station and rushing on to their familiar short hop on the tube, or outside to jump in a taxi, or perhaps preferring to walk across the City whilst taking in some snapshots of architectural genius…breathtaking creations that are so often missed in the hurly-burly of another ordinary, busy, so-much-to-get-done day in Metropolis.

For me this particular Tuesday it was a little bit different. I’m not incredibly familiar with Central London but I can find my way around OK on my usual routes. Today I was heading somewhere I’d never been before. As I came out onto the main station concourse, I flipped out my phone and opened the Tube Map app to sort out where I needed to be going.

No direct line. Damn. Need to engage brain.


I stared at the tiny map for an age and was getting nowhere. Way too many options, massive indecision leading to temporary mental paralysis!

Plan B – head down the steps and find one of those large spaghetti maps just before you go through the barriers. That’s better. Make the map larger and it’s much easier to get perspective. Select my line – the first one at least. Choose a destination. Find the platform, board the train and then watch, eagle-eyed, as we pass each station on the way to where i get off.

Time to re-calibrate. Next line. Where am I now? Where do I get off?The big picture map is great but when it comes to making specific progress I need to simplify it right down to a one-line process where I can easily mark my progress.

I’m heading for Swiss Cottage. I’m at London Bridge. That’s eight stops away. In the middle of a million people and ten million thoughts, I need a really simple way of knowing where I am, where I’m going and how many stops to get there.

IMG_2079That’s why I love it when I get to the platform and see one of these maps (eyes right)! Us human beings function much better in the middle of a busy day with the second kind of map rather than the first. Sure we need the big picture and the strategic plan about how it all connects together. All of that should be put together away from the front line where our thinking is clearer and our focus undiluted. Stepping out into the hubbub of the day I need a simple, crystal-clear one page plan that plots my route from A to B and tells me exactly which line I’m on (I don’t want choices now) and how many stops to Swiss Cottage!

Translating all of this into the reality of our lives, our businesses, and all the stuff we have to get done, the obvious lesson is that we need both kind of maps. So many individual leaders and management teams I’ve worked with have struggled to create the proper ‘big map’ or, having done that well, have then failed to translate that on a daily and weekly basis into the single line map that plots the fastest and most effective path from where we are now to the next identified milestone.

One of the most valuable habits to develop in this respect is the ‘Ten Magic Minutes’ – ten minutes spent planning before setting off on the journey of any day to establish what must be done, in what order, in which time slots and exactly what ‘finished’ looks like, or in other words, translating the ‘big map’ into today’s single line. The same thing when you get there – ‘Ten Magic Minutes’ to review, note the escalator repairs at Green Park for the next six weeks and alter the route for next time!  Obvious really, but it’s amazing what comes into focus during an ordinary Tuesday on the London Underground!

I’m still being WAY too reactive (& so are you, probably)!

November 26, 2014

There is a certain conversation I often have with people attending the Effective Personal Management workshop, and sometimes even those seeking to take their productivity to a seriously higher level through our Effective Personal Productivity programme,

I say, and almost everyone agrees, that we do our best work and achieve loads more – typically three to four times more – when we are in the ‘non-urgent / important’ quadrant of the famous time-management matrix, compared to when we’re reacting to people and things shouting loudly at us that draw us into the urgent side of the matrix.

But then the objections and qualifying circumstances are raised. This kind of thing:


“That’s great Nick,but our industry is really reactive….”

“I understand what you’re saying, but in my role I have to be super-responsive to the customers.”

Whether it’s external – customers, typically – or internal – the boss, department heads, finance etc – we all have those things going on in our work that make what seem like super-urgent demands upon us that we just can’t ignore.

You know what, sometimes that’s exactly right. We should respond because it’s really, really important and definitely requires immediate attention. But how many times can we say that is genuinely the case? One in ten? One in fifty?

The vast majority of what comes my way in the usual week can be predicted, generally speaking at least if not the exact detail, planned for and provision made to schedule the appropriate time to deal with. The same is probably true for you too.

I’ll end with a quick example that illustrates what I’m saying.

One particular manager I was working with on our Productivity programme was having a lot of trouble getting things done on time because of the incessant demands of a few of the company’s best customers. “We can’t afford not to respond to these….the customers pay the wages”. However, the constant interruptions by phone and email were having a seriously negative impact on the business as a whole.

The solution: In seeking to apply the ideas in the programme, the manager in question approached the biggest culprits and said something like this:

“You’re great clients of ours and we really appreciate your business. In fact, I’m so keen to make sure that we’re giving you the attention and levels of service you deserve, I wonder if we could try something that I think will help. Rather than me responding haphazardly to your needs and requests, i’d like to be certain that I give the work we do for you 100% focus. Would you mind if we set up a regular conference call, twice a week for half an hour to begin with, where we go over everything to do with our current projects and anything you need to share with me… and vice-versa?”

Far from being annoyed, the client loved it! No-one had ever shown them so much consideration. The manager in question freed up about half a day per week as a result of being less reactive. It was definitely a Win:Win scenario. A similar approach to the above can often work interally when, for example, it’s your boss who’s your biggest source of urgent interruptions.

I could tell dozens more stories like this, but the simple truth is that I, and perhaps you too (!), are still being WAY TOO REACTIVE.

I’m on a mission to help busy leaders and managers find an extra day a week for the important work (and pleasure) activities that they don’t currently have time for. If you’d like a gentle kick up the backside to get you going with this, drop me a line – I’ll be glad to have twenty minutes on the phone or Skype to assist with kickstarting your own major productivity boost…perhaps to the tune of a whole extra day per week!

Nick’s Nuggets (getting stuff done) episode 2

November 21, 2012

Book appointments with yourself for getting your most important pieces of work done today.