No, no, no, no, no

Last week I read a blog post entitled Saying no more by Shane Mac. He talks about how the biggest life change he ever made was starting swimming. But, as anyone who does any kind of exercise will tell you, what you put into your body has a huge effect on how hard you find that activity.

After detailing struggles to change his diet, Shane has resolved to say ‘no’ to cigarettes, soda, more than 3 cups of coffee a day, alcohol on worknights, red meat, snacks, bottled water and fried food.

Quite the list.

I sent the blog post to Hannah (my wife) and we talked it over. We’ve come up with five rules of our own of our own, inspired by Shane. Importantly, though, we’re initially only committing to these on weekdays* We can do what we like at weekends!

  1. No sugary drinks
  2. No red meat
  3. No alcohol
  4. No snacks (other than fruit)
  5. No coffee after 4pm

It’s not quite as hardcore as Shane’s version, but it’s eminently doable. And it should have a huge impact on our exercise.

Image CC BY-NC-SA cpalmieri

*As everyone knows, the weekend starts at 5pm on Fridays. 😉

I am not Richard Stallman

I am not Richard Stallman


Yesterday I headed to Lifehacker to get my weekly dose of their excellent ‘How I Work’ series. However, this week they decided to hand it over to readers using their blogging platform (Kinja). I decided to take part and you can see my response here (warning: includes photo of my messy study!)

Marc Scott picked up on this via Twitter and wrote a masterful post entitled How I Do My Computing by !=Richard Stallman. A sample:

The Internet on my laptop runs really slowly and it’s quite difficult to see sites because of all the toolbars that take up half of the screen. Also when I load the Internet I get annoyed by all the pop-ups that suddenly appear for adult dating sites and on-line gambling. I used to get lots of annoying messages on the Internet about things like ActiveX, but a friend showed me how to change my security settings so they don’t come any more.


I am not Richard Stallman

At the end of Marc’s post he linked to original post by Stallman (of which his was a parody).

Wow. Stallman is hardcore:

I occasionally use X11 for tasks that need graphics, but mostly I use a text console. I find that the text console is more efficient and convenient for the bulk of the work I do, which is editing text.


I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites I have some special relationship with. I fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program (see git:// that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me. Then I look at them using a web browser, unless it is easy to see the text in the HTML page directly. I usually try lynx first, then a graphical browser if the page needs it.

That’s as close to tinfoil hat-wearing as it actually gets.

The Moral

As Seth Godin often says, we need to surround ourself (intellectually, if we can’t physically) with outliers in order to challenge our thinking:

The crowd has more influence on us than we have on the crowd. It’s not an accident that breakthroughs in music, architecture, software, athletics, fashion and cuisine come in bunches, often geographic. If you need to move, move. At least change how and where you exchange your electrons and your ideas.

After all, as they say, bad habits are like a comfortable bed: easy to get into but hard to get out of.

There’s a political theory called the Overton window that is used to describe the narrow range of ideas that the public will accept. The degrees of acceptance goes like this:

Overton assigned a spectrum of “more free” and “less free”, with regard to government intervention, oriented vertically on an axis. When the window moves or expands along this axis, an idea at a given location may become more or less politically acceptable as the window moves relative to it. The degrees of acceptance[4] of public ideas can be described roughly as:

  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

So at the start of the year, before the NSA revelations, it would be Unthinkable for an ‘ordinary’ person to adopt anything close to  Stallman’s approach. Now, however, it’s at least Radical if not Acceptable or Sensible.


I’m not suggesting that we crypto everything or become paranoid to the extent that it consumes us. What I am suggesting (and what I’m doing myself) is to review the connected technologies and services I’m using. If you want to do something similar then I highly recommend you check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Who Has Your Back? 2013 and, if you’ve never used Linux before, give elementaryOS a spin.* It’ll probably be an upgrade from what you’re using.

Questions? Comments? I want to read them. Add yours below!

Image CC BY-NC Maurizio Scorianz

*Want to go a step further? Try Tails.

Who I am and how I work: Eugenie Teasley

Eugenie TeasleyI’m always fascinated by how other people work and achieve the stuff they think is important in life. That’s why I love sites like The Setup and the ‘This Is How I Work’ series of blog posts on Lifehacker and Dai Barnes’ blog.

I’ve decided to start an occasional series that does something similar but includes an audio element (an ‘interview’, if you will) including a little more context than you usually get.

This inaugural post features Eugenie Teasley (@eugenieee), who I came across earlier this year. She’s one of the most enthusiastic, smart, lovely, honest, talented people you could ever hope to meet. And, therefore, the perfect person to kick off the series!


Can’t see the embedded audio player above? Click here!

(you can subscribe to the series as a podcast by using this feed)

So who are you, then?

I run Spark+Mettle, an aspirations agency that equips people with the 21st century skills — character strengths, soft skills and networks — needed to succeed in work and life. We primarily work with marginalised 18–24 year olds, but we like involving everyone in what we do. We like co-creating stuff with the people we work with, and Robin-Hooding people’s digital habits to turn them into something productive and meaningful.  I live just up from the beach in Brighton with my husband, son and two dogs. And often various Europeans coming to learn English. On weeks like this, there’s almost nowhere better to be. In England.

And how very well are you?

I’m okay. I’m about to go on holiday for the first time this year, which is a big deal. It’s nowhere grand, just a beach in Norfolk. But there’s sea and sand and, quite possibly, sun. And seals. The last ten weeks or so have been a bit nuts, workwise, so it feels pretty exciting. I hate people who talk about how busy they are, which means I hate myself right now. I am so busy. In Norfolk I might go do something crazy, like read a book.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Excel, and we are not natural companions. But I’ve been revising the business plan for a platform we launched earlier this year, Discoverables, as well as applying for various pots of funding. It’s meant a lot of time on trains, in coffee shops, in meetings, with figures and goals and projections dancing around my head. To wind down I’ve been getting myself hooked on House of Cards, running along the seafront, and reading ‘Frog and Toad’ stories to my kid. They are the greatest stories. There’s one called The Kite which is maybe the best story about grit, determination or “mettle” that I’ve ever read.

Have you come across anything/done anything that’s really had an impact on the way you work?

Last year I met a man called Graham Allcott, founder of Think Productive, and author of How To Be A Productivity Ninja. I read his book as soon as it was published and it really motivated me to organise my life better, especially my inbox. It’s a fantastic, fantastic book. Hugely enjoyable as well as helpful. I now like getting my inbox to zero most days. He also was one of the inspirations behind the #Flourish40 experiment I did earlier this year, focusing on real, easy ways to be a better version of myself in a short amount of time. One of those actions included only spending one hour a day on email, and ditching screens before 9am and after 6pm, for six weeks. I haven’t stuck to them now, but I have greatly reduced my email/screen time. It makes me feel human. That and Asana. I work remotely and on lots of different projects with lots of different people, so it’s insanely useful.

Who really inspires you?

Over the past couple of years I’ve been most inspired by the quietly extraordinary humans I’ve encountered in amongst all the noise of start-uppers and social enterpreneurs and such. People like Cassie Robinson, who’s got a super cool project called LondonScape. And then there’s Hannah Smith, who is currently on a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust trip researching social entrepreneurship networks in New Zealand. They are people who are infinitely generous with their time, brains and contacts. And then there are the women I work with: Kazvare Shire and Arfah Farooq. They make things happen, are self-reliant and have smarts like no other. I’m also constantly inspired by my own, old ma — who somehow seemed to get the balance between working furiously at what she loved and raising an incredibly happy and secure family in a way that makes me want to emulate her approach day on day. It’s something I am far from nailing.

Apart from your phone, which piece of tech would you not be without?

It would have to be my Nike Fuelband. I’ve had it since November and it’s totally transformed my daily life and activities. The psychology is so simple: I now pretty much always walk to the station, for example, rather than get a bus because it will earn me points. I’m naturally competitive and not naturally sporty, so it gives me an opportunity to compete primarily against myself. Perfect. Saying that, I have one friend I’m connected to on it as well, and if he’s ahead of me then it will inspire me to go for a run. A couple of weeks ago I logged my hundredth run through the Nike Run app, and that made me feel so proud of what I’ve done in under a year (this time last summer I was out-waddled by a duck). It boosts my vitality, my spark, my mettle, my self-esteem, my sense of agency… so many of the character strengths I bang on about as being the components of flourishing.

And finally, who would you like to see answer these questions?

There’s a games guy called Mark Sorrell (@sorrell) who seems like a super smart cookie. I think Cassie Robinson is ace and what she’s doing with LondonScape /Data Store is so cool (@cassierobinson). Dilesh Lalloo is director of Pixelgroup and is always doing neat things (currently working on a Mills & Boon website :-)), @hoxtontweet). And then Pedram Parasmand (@pedagogicalped) works at Teach First but is co-founder of the Skills Lab and always knows the most fascinating things about education, and is increasingly interested in digital ed too. Finally Alison Coward (@alisoncoward) is the queen of creative collaboration and I always love knowing what is inside her head.  Oh and Kieron Kirkland of Nominet (@kieronkirkland). He’s doing really interesting and clever things around impact evaluation of digital projects.

Great stuff! Big thanks to Eugenie for giving up part of her holiday to talk to me. If you haven’t already (ahem) discovered Discoverables I really would give it a try. It’s awesome. 🙂

Always in Beta

Habits are things you get for free

By now I’ve probably over-shared this excellent Lifehacker interview with Cory Doctorow where he uses the throwaway line “habits are things you get for free”. What an excellent way to capture the benefit of engrained behaviours!

It got me thinking about the things that I do everyday to remain productive – and what I could do to increase that further.

What I do now

  • Wake up early. This is easy when you have young children. I have a sunrise alarm clock to wake me with light instead of noise.
  • Have a cold morning shower. It’s horrendous at first but you get used to it. The benefits? It properly wakes you up, and it’s supposed to be good for staving off depression and increasing testosterone production in men.
  • Do exercise. What kind I do depends on the time of year and my travel schedule, so it could be running 5k, interval training, swimming, weights or my kettlebell. It’s good to mix things up.
  • Eat protein for breakfast. Nothing but eggs keeps me full until lunchtime, so I vary between an omelette and scrambled/fried eggs on toast. If you mix a bit of chilli in there it kickstarts your metabolism, too.
  • Drink coffee. I’ve found that the optimum amount for me is a cup in the morning and then a cup early afternoon. Caffeine 3pm in the afternoon affects my sleep.
  • Listen to the right kinds of music. Since selling all my CDs in 2009 I use Spotify Premium and Hype Machine. I’ve got playlists that I put on at certain types of the day – for example ambient sounds (rainforest, ocean waves) first thing in the morning, electro house for processing email, slower bpm with no vocals for reading, etc.
  • Go for walks. I’ve lost 8lbs in in the last month and the only significant different is a conscious effort to walk more. I’ve got a Fitbit that tells me when I’ve done my 10,000 steps for the day. I use my phone to take voice notes.
  • Associate tasks with locations. I’m fortunate in that I can work from anywhere in the world. I’m writing this, for example, at a train station. I associate email processing with sitting with my laptop at my dining room table. Reading with sitting on the sofa in my study. Writing (i.e. typing) with sitting on the floor. Hour-long Skype calls with sitting on the armchair in our bedroom.
  • Write down how I feel. I’ve got a diary but, given that I type faster than I write, is a handy resource. It also does sentiment analysis, which serves as another data point.
  • Change my screen temperature. Blue light isn’t good in the hours before bedtime as it can interfere with sleep patterns. Given the rest of my team is based in a timezone eight hours behind UK time I sometimes have no choice but to be looking at screens. To mitigate that, I use f.lux to automatically change the screen temperature of my MacBook and (jailbroken) iPhone.
  • Eat a yogurt before bed. Or a spoonful peanut butter. Both keep me full until morning so that I don’t wake up hungry.
  • Have a hot bedtime shower. This is a great way to decompress and also lowers your core body temperature ready for sleep.

What I could do

  • Schedule short breaks. I’ve experimented on and off with the Pomodoro technique but need to ‘chunk’ my day better. Ironically, I find this easier to do when I’m travelling than when I spend all day at home.
  • Take steps to improve my posture. It’s pretty bad. I used to have an iMac which was at the correct eye height but now I just use my laptop I could do better than I do now.
  • Do more exercise. I’m better than I was, but I do skip days and it has a noticeable hit on my productivity.
  • Eat less sugar. Although I eat way less than I used to, it’s like caffeine in producing a noticeable short-term ‘rush’ of productivity. It’s not sustainable, however, and significantly affects one’s long-term health. I’ve found a yogurt or a square of 70% chocolate works well if I’ve got a craving for something sweet.

I’d be fascinated to learn what productive habits YOU’VE got. I like to learn from others. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC russelldavies

Structured procrastination

As any who knows me well will testify, I like structure. That’s partly because, as Cory Doctorow put it in his recent Lifehacker interview “habits are things you get for free”. I plan each day using my daily planner – something that I know other people have also found value in using. 🙂

So when I came across a reference to structured procrastination today I was intrigued. Was this a a joke or a real thing? I did some digging. As it turns out, it’s the latter. The ‘method’ (more of an ‘anti-method’) can be summarised easily:

  • Don’t keep a schedule
  • Work on whatever you find most important/interesting

I find it fascinating that people can use such a method successfully.

Having those two things as principles is all very well and good, but does it work? Well apparently it’s been fundamental to the success of none other than bodybuilder/actor/politician Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Want to meet with Arnold? Sure, drop on by. He’ll see you if he can. But you might want to call first. Sorry, he doesn’t schedule appointments in advance.

As a result, for 20 years he has been free to work on whatever is most important in his life at any time.

Those of you in California may recall how, once Arnold decided to run for Governor, he went into a blaze of action and activity that resulted in a landslide victory. The book attributes this in part to the fact that his schedule was completely clear and he could spend all day, every day on his new political career, without having to worry about distractions or commitments.


It’s now got me thinking about lots of things. Whether such a approach would even be desirable. It’s got me thinking about the things that have to be in place before such an approach could work. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve been considering the extent to which an individual’s ‘barriers’ to actually doing this are real or merely perceived.

I’d love to learn more about how you organise yourself. What works best for YOU?

Image CC BY-SA nerovivo

Weeknote 05/2013

This week I’ve been:

  • More unproductive than usual, overall. Despite what’s below, I feel I should have achieved more this week. I’d like to attribute this to external factors such as jetlag knocking out my schedule but, to be honest, I should know better. Not enough exercise, too many late nights, and eating the wrong foods at the wrong times of the day. It all adds up.
  • Working on preparation for upcoming work around defining a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy. This has taken up a fair amount of my time writing copy, checking links and sorting out workflows. Whenever something looks simple and straightforward, it’s usually because someone has taken time over it beforehand.
  • Writing about online peer assessment building on interest-based pathways to learning.
  • Spending time on Quora. I really like the new blog feature. The whole experience gets a bit addictive – it’s a fairly compelling package now.
  • Talking with organizations about Open Badges. I’m never sure whether for-profit organisations are happy to tell the world they’re thinking about using badges (I should probably ask), but needless to say there’s plenty of interest from well-known ones!
  • Spending time with my family after being away most of last week (including the weekend!)
  • Registering for the DML Conference 2013. Not only is Mozilla launching v1.0 of the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) there, but it’s a great chance to catch up with people I usually only interact with online.
  • Marking some bids for the Nesta/Nominet Trust/Mozilla Digital Makers call.
  • Starting to brainstorm ideas for my OER13 keynote.
  • Replying to questions in the Open Badges Google Group
  • Sorting out Asana, a web app we use to co-ordinate team efforts within Mozilla. I get it now.
  • Changing my avatar everywhere as I’ve started wearing a hat. This may or may not be related to #LettingGrow.

Next week I’m looking forward to planning (with Kate Stokes from Nesta) our SXSWedu panel, figuring out more stuff around online peer assessment, and kicking-off Mozilla’s collaboration with the community around a new, open standard for Web Literacy.

How I plan my working days. [RESOURCES]

The great thing about working for an organization where you’re expected to be pretty self-directed is that you can organize your time pretty much however you want. The flip side of this, of course, is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of just doing whatever you feel like doing (rather than what’s important).

I iterated the daily planner below whilst I was still working for Jisc infoNet. I find it such an incredibly useful tool that I’ve continued to use it now that I work at Mozilla. You can print it out and/or download the PDF below:

The planning sheet was inspired by lots of different places I read productivity stuff, so if some of it looks familiar, that’s why. It’s fairly self-evident, but basically you:

  1. Circle the appropriate day, date and month. You can find this to the top-right of the planner.
  2. Add time-specific stuff to the ‘Morning’, ‘Afternoon’ and ‘Evening’ boxes. If you need to be somewhere or doing something at a particular time, add this before going any further.
  3. Think through the things you need to do today. Some of these may be things you didn’t get done yesterday or have written on a weekly ‘scratch pad’.
  4. Organise the things you need to do into groups. For example, most days I’ve got ‘writing’ and ‘reading’ as headings.
  5. Write down the tasks you need to do under the group headings. These will then have a number and a letter next to them – e.g. ‘1a’ or ‘3c’
  6. Add any other tasks to the ‘Emergent & other tasks’ box. These may be personal reminders or just less important stuff that needs doing sometime.
  7. Start adding tasks to your ‘Morning’, ‘Afternoon’ and ‘Evening’ boxes. I also schedule lunch and exercise. You can just write the appropriate number and letter to save space – e.g. ‘2a’ or ‘3b’.

You can experiment. You can change it. You can do what you like with it. Yesterday, for example, I drew different numbers of circles around tasks to represent time in a quasi-Pomodoro Technique style. Do what you like. Hack it.

If you find this useful, you could always donate to the #LettingGrow campaign.