Planning vs prevarication

A friend just sent me a mindmap of a book idea and said that she was doing so to prove that she would write the book. It shouldn’t be proof, but it is: she’s done a particularly well-worked out and detailed map that slips easily into a chapter outline. Pop those into Word or whatever she’s writing in and her book is underway.

It shouldn’t be: this is just a list of chapters, but it is and you know it is. That time spent planning has produced a working, useful document that has got her somewhere and will continue to get her places.

There is another type of planning that neither she nor you ever, ever do, which is where you plan in order to postpone doing the actual work. We don’t talk about that kind of planning, you and I, we do not.

Until she sent me this map, what I was intending to talk to you about today was planning in general. And I was going to use October in particular. I’ve been feeling a bit anxious and overwhelmed about the things I’ve got to do this month.

So many of them are events that need work and then around them are so many other tasks that aren’t event but need more. And hanging over the lot is a job where I’m waiting to get briefed.

Last night I went through it all and put each event on my calendar. That’s it. Nothing else. Today I have to work through the work, so to speak, but seeing it all there on the month view, somehow it has become manageable to me. I think it’s become visible, that’s the thing. I can see what the month is.

I’d have told you that I’m not a visual thinker, that I’m more a text kind of one, but there’s no reason you can’t be both and right now the month view plan is making me feel calmer.

Whatever you’re overwhelmed about, spread it out on the table in front of you and just the act of doing that helps whelm.

New book on Blackberry is a lesson

I’ve said this before: what really makes the technology industry interesting is that it is like every other business played in fast forward. You can see familiar rises and falls but so fast that you can genuinely see them: it’s no longer a business school exercise, it’s today’s news.

A new book concentrates on the fall of Blackberry and specifically how the iPhone effectively and dramatically ended what was the most beloved phone company in the world.

From Amazon and the publishers’ description, this is Losing the Signal:

In 2009, BlackBerry controlled half of the smartphone market. Today that number is less than one percent. What went so wrong?

Losing the Signal is a riveting story of a company that toppled global giants before succumbing to the ruthlessly competitive forces of Silicon Valley. This is not a conventional tale of modern business failure by fraud and greed. The rise and fall of BlackBerry reveals the dangerous speed at which innovators race along the information superhighway.

With unprecedented access to key players, senior executives, directors and competitors, Losing the Signal unveils the remarkable rise of a company that started above a bagel store in Ontario. At the heart of the story is an unlikely partnership between a visionary engineer, Mike Lazaridis, and an abrasive Harvard Business school grad, Jim Balsillie. Together, they engineered a pioneering pocket email device that became the tool of choice for presidents and CEOs. The partnership enjoyed only a brief moment on top of the world, however. At the very moment BlackBerry was ranked the world’s fastest growing company internal feuds and chaotic growth crippled the company as it faced its gravest test: Apple and Google’s entry in to mobile phones.

Expertly told by acclaimed journalists, Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, this is an entertaining, whirlwind narrative that goes behind the scenes to reveal one of the most compelling business stories of the new century.

Losing the Signal blurb on Amazon

The book is released 26 May and can be ordered now from Amazon.

Thank you! “Positivity is the Worst Response to a Problem”

Oh, it’s not that bad. You’re just too close to it, you can’t see the upside. Give it a day and you’ll see you were right all along. If you’ve heard things like that or if you’ve said things like that, it’s not helping. So says Fast Company writer Stephanie Vozza and she must be right because she’s saying what I think.

True, she’s saying it better than I am, but.

In math, multiplying a negative by a positive gives you a negative answer. Ever notice the same thing happens in life? When a coworker complains and you try to inject something positive, the outcome is usually more negativity.

“When we hear negativity, our instinct is to try and cheer up the other person,” says Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want. “But often it’s the worst thing you can do.”

That’s because listening to negative conversations makes us uncomfortable, and saying something positive in response only serves as a way to make the listener feel better, not the person who is complaining. This reaction doesn’t help the person who is venting because the listener’s comments are perceived as being argumentative.

“You are basically disagreeing with the other person’s feelings,” says Bregman. “You’re saying that they’re wrong; things really aren’t that terrible. This just makes them entrench more deeply in their perspective.”

Why Positivity Is The Worst Response To A Problem – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company (19 March 2015)

Read the full piece. Mind you, I’m intrigued by the book she refers to, the Four Seconds one. The cynic in me is thinking it might take more than four seconds to read the book, but.

Unfair review of “Getting Things Done” 2nd edition

Look, you should probably get this book. How’s that for an unfair review? Also, much of what started me off doing The Blank Screen can be traced back to David Allen and Getting Things Done so, you know, I do entirely believe that the man is smart and that this GTD is clever.


After more than a decade, he’s released an updated version of the Getting Things Done book and I can’t get through it. I got the opening 30 pages or so from iBooks as a sample and the book is only £6.99 but I can’t do it, I can’t buy it because I just know I won’t be able to press on

I just don’t think Allen is a writer. Brilliant ideas and such great, great experience, but not a writer. For instance, I don’t think he always knows what he’s conveying. Follow. This new book is a complete rewrite except that he admits it’s more a complete re-type: he did retype the entire book and he added and changed bits along the way. I can’t tell how much is new but the core ideas are the same and that’s how it should be.


For this edition I grappled with how much attention to continue to devote to paper-based tools and materials… as many in the younger generations have come to believe they don’t have to deal with paper at all.

Tell me I’m wrong, do, but I can see him tussling over the phrasing of this and trying to not sound like paper is best and we’re all eejits for not seeing it. I’m fine that he believes in paper but he doesn’t sound like anyone else’s belief could be valid. This is about paper and whether you make scribbles instead of typing into your phone yet it’s rankling like a religious issue.

Maybe that’s partly because in the run up to this passage I’ve been finding the writing a slog. Maybe it’s because a sentence or three later he can’t resist going “so there” on us with:

Ironically, there is a growing resurgence of interest in the use of paper among is the most sophisticatedly digital.

Is there? To give the man credit, he may write that line like a defensive drinker in a pub argument but he pops a footnote asterisk next to it. There’s no answering footnote in the sample so let’s give him credit and the benefit of the doubt too.

But even if this is correct, it isn’t me. So he’s not writing about my world and he isn’t writing well; he doesn’t have to do the former but he does the latter and that’s why I’ve got to skip the rest of the book.

Using Evernote to write books

It’s a piece from so, you know, there’s not going to be a lot of criticism here but still:

Every day, people rely on Evernote to compile, catalog, organize their research and writing.

For author and chief Business Insider correspondent Nicholas Carlson, Evernote was the primary tool he used to write a 93,000 word book. In six weeks.

That boils down to an average of 2,500 words every day.

This week, Nicholas stopped by our Redwood City HQ to talk about how he used Evernote as the comprehensive writing workspace for his newly published book, “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!”

How to Write a 93,000 Word Book With Evernote – Taylor Pipes, Evernote Blog (18 January 2015)

Read the full piece.

New edition of Getting Things Done out this month

Just a provisional heads-up, a wary recommendation: a new edition of this productivity book is due out on 17 March. Getting Things Done was a giant success of a book that fostered a near-cult of GTD fans as they call themselves. It’s also directly helped me and I talk about it a lot in my own The Blank Screen. But in some ways it was rubbish.

Chiefly two ways. First, it was sometimes hard to get through the corporate-speak writing style. But, second, it was severely out of date. It was only written in 2001 but it’s Victorian with how it believes you can only do work emails at work. Was it ever thus? Really?

So I was excited when I heard a new edition is coming. That excitement has been tempered a bit by an interview I heard with author David Allen. I don’t know, but if he’s updated anything, it doesn’t sound like they are the core ideas. He spoke of a Palm Pilot as the ideal device for us, for instance. If you haven’t heard of that, take this as a sign that he’s talking rubbish. If you have heard of it, you know you’re not trading in your iPhone just yet.

However, a fuller blurb has been released on Amazon that says encouraging things like a claim that this is a total rewrite.

So fingers crossed I’ll be recommending the new Getting Things Done book. Right now the Kindle edition has been made available for pre-order at £6.99. Don’t accidentally order the paperback: the version of that online now is still the ancient first version.

In the meantime, here’s that Amazon publishers’ blurb:

Since it was first published in David Allen’s Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business titles of its era, and the book on personal organisation. ‘GTD’ has become shorthand for an entire way of approaching the professional and personal tasks everyone faces in life, and has spawned an entire culture of websites, organisational tools, seminars, and offshoots.

For this revised and updated edition, David Allen has rewritten the book from start to finish, tweaking his classic text with new tools and technologies, and adding material that will make the book evergreen for the coming decades. Also new is a glossary of GTD terms; The GTD Path of Mastership – a description of what Allen has learned and is now teaching regarding the lifelong craft of integrating these practices, to the end-game of the capability of dealing with anything in life, by getting control and focus; and a section on the cognitive science research that validates GTD principles

New edition of Getting Things Done – publishers’ blurb (2015)

Do these three things every day

Drink tea. Eat chocolate and – sorry? No? There are things you can do that will help as well as be deeply satisfying and rewarding?

They’re what are called foundational habits. Each one is doable, demonstrably beneficial and best of all, allows you to build other positive habits around them. If you can check these three boxes off each and every day, you’ll not only be more successful, but you’ll be healthy, happy and wise too. It’s not everything you ought to do, but it’s a good place to start.

Three Positive Habits To Practice Every Single Day – Ryan Holiday, Thought Catalog (2 March 2015)

I’d like you to read the full piece because it’s good and it’s interesting and its convincing. But I do also think it’s two things, not three.

For the three stated habits are: read a book, exercise and take a walk. Aren’t those last two at least related?

Airplane days, trains and pretend commutes

I read somewhere of a fella who goes flying in order to avoid phone calls. That’s excessive, even for me.

But having found that necessary business trips came with unexpected benefits from being out of contact with email and the web, he now regularly conjures up a cheaper and greener equivalent. He just decides that today is a Airplane Day and switches everything off.

Similarly, there are people who do pretend commutes. They have to be people who are working at home because otherwise their pretend and their real commutes would overlap, creating a paradox that might unfurl the entire space-time continuum. Granted, that’s a worst-case scenario.

But otherwise they do a real pretend commute. They ‘leave’ at the same time – they don’t go out of the house but they dress, they hurry to finish breakfast and down one last gulp of tea. And then they shut themselves away for 15 or 30 minutes. It’s usually the same length of time that they used to have as a genuine, real-life commute and usually I think it shortens a bit as the years go by and they’re under more pressure to work.

This is all about releasing and controlling and channelling pressure, though.

During a genuine, real-life commute, there isn’t much you can do. True, these days you can work on your phone or iPad, but you could also see those being nicked away from you.

So you read.

The news, a book, anything.

The fact that you cannot do anything else means you do it and for that 15 or 30 minutes, you’re calm.

It’s easy to do when you’re really commuting, it is much harder to make yourself have a pretend commute – but the benefits are the same. You start the working day ready and composed. You take in information, you learn things, you just enjoy thinking about different things. And for everyone, that’s fuel.

For us as writers, it’s the sand that becomes the pearl.

And I say this sitting on a train doing exactly the work I’d be doing at my home office. Well. I did read a book, though. Come on. I read all of it.

MacSparky Email book updated

I’d have said Email: A MacSparky Field Guide by David Sparks was the last word on email but I’d have been wrong. Maybe there can never be such a thing but an already very good go has just been improved. An updated version of the iBook is now available on the iBooks Store. Take a look at David Sparks’ official page about it for more details.

But while you’re at it, have a listen to him and colleague Katie Floyd on the latest MacPowerUsers podcast because that’s about the same thing. I’ve already read the original version of his book, my iPad is downloading the update as weak speak, but still I learnt some things from that.

Book: Filling the Blank Screen now out in paperback

IMG_0715.PNGBBC writer William Gallagher follows up his hit productivity book The Blank Screen with more informative, sparky and witty chapters about being creative and getting your writing done. Over 100 of the best, most talked about and most useful articles from The Blank Screen news site have been compiled, edited, updated and given a scrub. Learn about how writers and even normal people can get started on the writing they keep putting off. See how to get over problems and to that finish line – and about how about the only thing more useful to you than that expensive computer you’ve got is that expensive smartphone.

“Filling in the Blank Screen is a helpful read and has a lot of wisdom for us aspiring wordsmiths. It was a clever and witty read. You’ve got a great way of making it sound like a conversation with the reader. Very natural prose.” – George Bastow on Twitter September 7, 2014

Get it on Amazon now.