The 90-1 Process for Productivity

Admit it! Despite your best intentions, you were nowhere near as productive yesterday as you intended (or as you could have been). Today is probably going the same way. You were distracted multiple times and you didn’t get your stuff done.

I am going to let you into a few secrets of maximum productivity that I have learned from the masters.

I call it the 90-1 method. Ninety signifies one and a half hours (90 minutes) of focussed attention with no distractions and One refers to your number one most important priority (think about what one task will move you the furthest towards achieving one of your Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

  1. Identify your #1 priority from your task list. The best time to do this is at the end of the day, so your subconscious mind can start working on it as you relax and sleep overnight. The second best time to do this is first thing in the morning, before you open your emails.
  2. Turn off all notifications for new emails. You know how it is when your iPhone chirps — you just have to see who sent you that mail and you lose focus on what you were doing! Learn to review your messages on your own schedule, not someone else’s! Go to settings on your phone and turn off sounds and vibrations for new mail messages. Do the same in Outlook on your PC.
  3. Schedule a 90 minute focus session where you are going to work on #1. I call this session a “jam session”. For most people, 90 minutes is the limit of how long we can concentrate effectively. Block out some time in your calendar. Start out with a single jam session per day and later, see how many you can fit in, depending on the nature of your work. For me, the best time is first thing in the morning, after my workout, walking the dog and eating my breakfast and before I can be derailed by other things.
  4. Tell your colleagues what you are doing and shut you door or go somewhere quiet where you can avoid being disturbed.
  5. Get yourself a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea
  6. Pull out everything you need to work on priority #1 (papers, files, etc).
  7. Turn your phone off (set it to do not disturb or silent or airplane mode) so you are not distracted by instant messages, texts or even phone calls. Do the same with any applications on your PC.
  8. Set a timer (such as on your phone) for 45 minutes.
  9. Now, get to work and jam! Resist all temptation to attend to anything else. Ignore your emails, texts, Facebook notifications and everything else!
  10. When the timer goes, get out of your chair, stretch and fill up your water.
  11. Set the timer for another 45 minutes and complete your jam.

At the end of your jam session, get up and take a well earned 10-20 minute break to recover. You will be amazed at what you have achieved. Go and reward yourself with a (healthy) snack or a quick walk in the fresh air outside.

Make this a habit. You know your body clock best and what time period you have maximum attention and alertness. Always work on your highest priority first, then move to second, third and fourth priorities.

Let me know how you get on.

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My Three Words for 2015

Several years ago, I was inspired by Chris Brogan to set three words as a theme for the year. My words for 2014 were Plan, Execute and Discipline. 

My three words for 2015 are Bold, Passion and Connect.

1. Bold

I intend to be bold and fearless, couragous and audacious in all that I do. I shall ask the tough questions and take a stand, not hide behind the sofa or stay in my comfort zone.

2. Passion

I intend to be passionate about pursuing what I believe in; passionate about supporting causes I believe in. I intend to live with passion and love.

3. Connect

I intend to connect more deeply with the important people in my life, especially my close family and close friends. I intend to connect with people who are close to me in my work, especially my new team. I intend to add greater value to my connections and my network.


How Did I Get On in 2014?

Plan, execute and discipline were great focus words in 2014. The accomplishment about which I am most proud, crossing the line in my first marathon, was all about planning my training sessions and having the discipline to execute.

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Lessons from Navy SEALs

Mike Coote

Mike Coote

This is a guest post from my mentor and coach, Michael Coote from S+ – The Real Leadership Company  

The US Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Teams, commonly known as the Navy SEALs, is the United States Navy’s principal special operations force. It is usually their duty  to conduct small-unit maritime military operations which originate from, and return to a river, ocean, swamp, delta or coastline. Part of the United States Special Operations Command, SEAL teams are highly trained tactical units whose job it is to carry out missions and campaigns that other teams are not equipped to do.

Having recently read The Way of the SEAL and a Navy SEAL training manual, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the competitive landscapes of the military and business. What (if anything) can I learn from SEALs? And what might “Black Ops inspired” business look like? So I have drawn up this list of my top 8 lessons from the SEAL handbook. They have struck a chord and inspired me.

1. Learn “Kokoro”

Kokoro is a Japanese term which means to merge our heart and mind in action. It implies that we perform at our best when we are balanced and centered, both with ourselves, with others and with our environment. This is why SEALs are encouraged to meditate every day, in order to visualise a successful outcome of whatever mission lies ahead that day. They call it sacred silence time.

Of the several mantras that SEALs focus on during these meditations, four of them resonated with me the most;

  1. Bullet-proof your mission to inoculate your efforts against failure.
  2. Do today what others won’t so you can achieve tomorrow what others can’t.
  3. Break things and remake them, improving them through innovation and adaptation.
  4. Think offense, all the time, to surprise your competition and dominate the field.

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible”. T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935)

2. Stand For Something

It has been quoted many times that unless you stand for something, you will fall for anything, but SEAL’s take this challenge very seriously. They are taught to find their own deeply held personal values, and to hold onto them. This is so that they will always be able to answer the question, “Why am I doing this?”, because if they don’t know the answer, they will likely lose focus when they are facing great personal risk. When SEALs know their purpose, they use it as an internal navigational system that never blows them off course.

If you have heard Sinek’s TED “Why” talk, this will all feel very familiar, but SEALs split their why into two parts; the stand and the purpose. The difference between a stand and a purpose is distinct. Your stand is your core set of beliefs. Once you know what they are you can clarify your purpose. Your stand answers the question “What would I do?” and your purpose answers the question “Why am I here?”. I spent many hours working out my own values and purpose, and it is such a productive process that I am encouraging organisations to do the same. What do you stand for and why are two of the most difficult, but most rewarding questions that I encourage any business unit to spend time discussing.

3. Define the Mission

When you strive to achieve any goal (or embark on a mission), you must clarify and define expectations, both explicit and implicit. You may understand the explicit expectations well, but hidden within any mission are implicit expectations which could compromise the outcome. For example, a SEAL may define his mission as the sinking of an enemy ship. But implied in the mission may be that senior leaders expect that ship to be out of action for 6 months, complete the mission in secret that evening, and do it without any personnel losses. SEAL commanders teach that if the implied tasks of the mission are out of sync with the teams competencies, resources, risk tolerance or time frame, then it will fail. The same is clearly true in business as well.

SEALs have a list of questions they use to question any mission, but these three stood out to me the most:

  1. Is there some higher priority project that may take precedence and sidetrack me?
  2. Why am I doing this? (is it aligned with our overall mission as a company / team?)
  3. What other subtasks are required before I can fulfill what is expected of me?

4. Simplify the Battlefield

Simplifying the battlefield is SEAL speak for eliminating distractions. This requires two key elements. First, you must know your unique talent / offering so that you can identify what you must do and what needs delegating, then you must de-clutter your internal and external environments so that you can see simple solutions more easily. SEALs have a very diverse skill set, but their teams are set up according to each mission – allowing them to get in, get it done and get out in the shortest amount of time. In war or in business, success comes from knowing the things that you (and your team) do better than anyone else.

In practice, SEALs create bullet proof mission plans by going through an exercise called FITS;

FIT: Does the target fit your team? Is it the best use of time and energy? What will it cost to engage this target, and is the ROI worth the effort?
IMPORTANCE : How important is the target to the broader strategic mission? What effect will this mission have on me, my team and my enemy / competitors?
TIMING : Is this this right time to address this target? Are we ready? How will our competition respond?
SIMPLICITY : Is the target simple and clear? Can we achieve our goal without degrading our reputation, future capacities or team cohesion?

5. Set SMART Goals

Navy SEALs are taught to keep a journal and regularly assess their personal performance, vision, values and purpose. Part of this process includes selecting goals or missions that will move them towards fulfilling their purpose, breaking them down into 1 and 3 year goals that drive towards their primary objectives. They then create quarterly or micro-goals that can be tied to their 1 year goal.

6. Excel in Chaos

When chaos becomes a norm – as in when countries, industries or companies go through periods of rapid change – the human mind is thrown into confusion, immediately seeking comfort by looking for remnants of the old, stable system. SEALs are taught the discipline of avoiding any ritualised patterns, with team leaders saying that “Routine is the enemy”. They change their routines frequently to keep their perspective fresh, stating that in warfare, chaos and a lack of routine quickly confuses their opponents.

7. Shoot, Move and Communicate

Agility and velocity are crucial for leaders as our business climate increasingly takes on the attributes of a battlefield. SEAL leaders remain agile by maintaining situational awareness as a “shoot, move and communicate” process called OODA.

Observe > Orient > Decide > Act

This process has been used successfully as a process for years. It is a mental model that compels you to process and respond to information quickly. In doing so, you get very good at making important and complicated decisions quickly. The process is built on the basis that if you can speed up your decision-making cycle while slowing down your opponent’s, the outcome will always veer in your favour. In theory, whoever navigates their OODA loop the fastest will have the upper hand.

8. Know When to Break the Rules

Many of these ‘lessons’ feel like rules. Teachers are always quick to explain that you need to fully understand the rules before you break them. If you have read this far, it will come as no surprise to learn that SEALs also have a system for knowing when to break the rules! Here’s a few of them;

  • Is the rule ethical in our determination of what is ethical?
  • Is the rule legal in our system?
  • What is the upside of breaking this rule?
  • Is it better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission?
  • If someone gets hurt, is it only the bad guys?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?


SEAL commanders have identified five principles common to success special operations; Purpose, repetition, security, surprise and speed. These principles run through the many processes that SEAL teams have, but I am amazed at the amount of plays, systems and processes that SEALs seem to have. It’s over-whelming!But since I have been reading about SEALs, I have come to the conclusion that a SEAL mindset is often not that complicated at all.

I am a big fan of the Woody Allen quote, “80% of success is turning up”. It is often quoted to try to dispel the myths surrounding leadership and winning, since much corporate success simply involves being in the right place at the right time.

I have loved reading the discipline, drive and determination that Navy SEALs are motivated by. They are clearly an elite force, capable of things that very few people on earth have the physical skills and mental toughness to carry out. Team leaders claim that the mindset of a SEAL, and what makes them successful, is their commitment to do five things incredibly well – 5 things that I think would make any business professional:

1. Controlling your response
2. Controlling your attention
3. Developing emotional resilience
4. Setting effective goals
5. Visualising powerfully

But what I love the most is that many SEALs seem to be driven by this beautifully simple quote from William Feather.

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go”.

To contact Mike, please visit The Real Leadership Company or see Mike’s twitter feed at @mikecthecoach 

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I’m Not Too Bad

The words you speak predict the future you will live. Words have an extraordinary power to shape your decisions, choices and actions.

So why do so many people (in Great Britain, at least) use phrases like “I’m not too bad” when asked how they are?

Bad compared to what?

Another curious meme is for people to prefix a statement with “If I’m honest” or “to be honest…”

Does that mean that they were telling lies before?

Seriously, the words we use are very powerful. If you speak like a victim, even if you don’t think you really are a victim, then you are programming your subconscious to produce mediocrity and failure.

If you talk like an elite performer, you will instill the habits of winning, of greatness and mastery.

When I called a friend last week, Gareth answered how he was with the word “spectacular”.

Yes, his response was a little über-positive, but it certainly produced a smile on my face and got me wondering about how to make that day a spectacular one. I’m sure that Gareth really was on fire that day and played at world class.

Go on. Change the words. Tell people, including yourself, that you are good, great, wonderful, cashing cheques, awesome or even magnificent or spectacular.

Just don’t be bad. Or not not too bad.

Thanks to Robin Sharma for inspiring part of this blog.

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Master the ASK, not the TELL

imagesHow often have you had a boss, a parent, a spouse or a sales person tell you how to do something? Odds are that you felt somewhat put down – you didn’t like being told and would prefer to have that other person ask questions (or at least ask your permission to show you how to do a task.

The best leaders master the ask, instead of the tell. Instead of telling people “this won’t work” or “do it this way”, they ask questions such as:

  • How could we do a better job of…?
  • What are your thoughts on…?
  • Where are we missing an opportunity…?
  • What do you think about…?
  • How will we fund this…?

Asking people leads them to answer the questions themselves (self-discovery) which leads to involvement, ownership and eventually commitment.

As a sales person, how can you ask better questions of your customer so that your customer starts questioning the status quo (for a structure of how to ask great questions, SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham is highly recommended).

As a parent, how can you ask your child better questions? It is so easy to continue to tell kids the world according to Mum or Dad (and maybe pass on your limiting beliefs).

As a boss, how can you ask your followers great questions to inspire them on to ownership and commitment?


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Business Lessons from Running a Marathon

I just completed my first ever marathon! As I went through my training, I was struck by the thought that there are so many lessons for business from preparing for, and running the 42,195m race.RT0828_29897

It’s not so much physical as a mental challenge.

Yes, it was hard on my legs and there really was a physical pain barrier to go through. However, most of the barriers were in my head. Just like the demons that make me afraid of rejection.

Planning is Key

You can’t just turn up and run a marathon. You have to plan the training schedule and fit it into and around the rest of life. In business, we plan our activities, sales and finances. My training plan involved three runs per week for a period of 14 weeks to build up to the race day. I had to schedule workouts around business trips – making sure that I stayed in hotels where I could access a gym or had somewhere good to run outside (the Quayside in Newcastle-upon-Tyne was one of the best places I found).

My plan was three runs per week: a long run (usually 20 – 32km on Saturday); a set of 800m (Yasso) intervals and a tempo run (fast 8 – 16km) during the week.


In business, we have to be disciplined to do the important things – prospecting, following up, sending quotes, etc. The marathon runner has to be disciplined to go out for a run when it is scheduled, regardless of the weather. I had to discipline myself to eat the right food, to hydrate properly and to get enough sleep.

During the race, I had to have the discipline to stick to my race pace (5’40″/km for a 4 hour run) and not start too fast and risk burning out.


Ideation without execution is delusion (Robin Sharma). In business, we have to ship our art (our work). The marathon runner has to complete the 30km runs as well as the shorter runs to build up stamina and condition the body and the mind to be exercising for more than 3 hours.

The Result

I completed my run in 4:08:29. The first 25 – 30km were on my race plan, then I found it incredibly tough and slowed somewhat. My stretch goal was to beat 4 hours. I was determined to be faster than 4:15.

Most importantly, I raised more than £700 for Parkinson’s UK.


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Can you forego immediate gratification?

Long term studies prove that the most important human discipline involved in long term success is the ability to forego immediate gratification for a larger but delayed reward.

The original study was done by Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. Children had a marshmallow put in front of them and were told that they could eat it, but if they did not, then they would get an extra marshmallow later. Following up on the children, Mischel found those who could resist the temptation of immediate gratification were more successful in later life. See

The You Tube video (below) has another version of this experiment. Watch the agony on the little people’s faces!

So what are the lessons for you and me? 

The most successful people are those who can avoid being distracted by the bombardment of emails, tweets, Facebook messages, Pinterest, texts and other digital distractions.

Avoid temptation: turn off alerts. Check emails on your schedule – not anyone else’s. Try sprint and recovery sessions (like an athlete) in your office – set a timer and work in 90 minute chunks followed by 15 minutes of recovery.

I will write about some other productivity techniques in the coming weeks. Tell me how you deal with distractions.

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