End the ‘To-Do’ List for Better Productivity

I was recently approached by someone who was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things he needed to get done each day. His motivation was to do a really good job, but his productivity was poor – no matter how many hours he put in, there was always something else which needed his attention and he felt like he was going backwards. Each new day started with a backlog from the previous, and from one minute to the next he didn’t know from where the next curved ball might hit him. When we met he was in a highly stressed state, he wasn’t sleeping, which was affecting his performance, making him less rational than he might otherwise be, which was further feeding the stress.


While I am not saying that it was all the fault of his ‘to do’ list, I do think that scrapping it was the biggest single contributing factor in breaking this negative cycle. The trouble with such lists is that they do nothing to inform us how long each item will take, nor which should take priority; as a result you have no visibility, which makes us wonder if we are doing the right thing at any one time, leading to feelings of lack of control – a key factor in stress.



There is a different way

At this time of year we tend to come back to work re-energised from our winter break and motivated to get things done many of us will have compiled a trusty ‘to do’ list – lines/pages of actions arising from quality, non-stressed thinking over the holiday period and captured safely to avoid forgetting these nuggets. I’d like to encourage you to try out a slightly different approach – perhaps give it 4-6 weeks – instead of using a list, use a schedule. This is hardly revolutionary – I’m sure you already have a diary, which at least has appointments recorded, so all I ask is for you to extend this to the point where you start scheduling everything, (yes, everything!)


Start each week by producing a plan – using something like this:



  1. Block out & label the things that can not be moved (e.g. meetings to which you are pivotal and/or committed) & don’t forget to block out traveling time where appropriate
  2. Now think about the major things you want to achieve in the coming week. Break it down into tasks and block out appropriate chunks of time to work on them, (work on the rocks, pebbles, sand principle)
  3. Now block out time for all of the other things you need to do and label them. Don’t forget to schedule lunch and regular breaks.


Crucially, we can now to see when your week is full; if we want to fit in something else we make a conscious decision about what to sacrifice/move into next week, (prioritising). The other major benefit of this over a list is that the constant background worry about whether we are doing the right thing at the right time is removed, as we are reassured that we thought about this rationally at the beginning of the week. You’ll be amazed at how much headspace this frees up.


One objection I commonly encounter goes, “but my life is not like that, I have to react to situations minute by minute”. When we step back this is rarely the case, and if it really is so, then there is something fundamentally awry with the way we are working. That said I do understand that the idea of having the whole day committed can be a scary one and things can and do crop up, things which need your attention. For these people I propose blocking out an hour, maybe even two, and label that time “unexpected”. Let the team know that this is the time to bring up urgent/unscheduled things, (for other things get them to book out a free slot in your schedule), and if nothing crops up simply crack on with the next item on your schedule.


I’m pleased to say that having implemented this system “John” is much more relaxed and has better productivity and is more creative in his work, all this because  he has taken back control – he’s happy, his boss is happy and his direct reports are delighted.


Give it a try

If you would like to talk about making your time more productive please get in contact. If you would like to download our Weekly Planner template for free (and without the need to leave your email address – just think of us when you need some help) use the link below.


I’d also love to hear how you get on.



About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Your can contact her at

enquiries @yibp.co.uk  or 07789 520205

Ditch Perfectionism – Combat Procrastination

It’s a good thing to set your standards high but just watch out for the potential downside of perfectionism – procrastination. When I was in my mid twenties, I had a tendency to want everything that I did to be perfect, so much so that anxiety about failing to reach that standard sometimes prevented me from actually getting started on anything. I was effectively “paralysed by self-consciousness,” as my therapist put it. It was a very self-limiting thought process and I was very happy to put it behind me. Nowadays I am always eager to learn new things and impatient to start out on new adventures. So how did I get to where I am now?

The first step was to recognise I had a problem ‘perfectionism’ (not an easy admission) and the second was to seek advice. Self-awareness and taking responsibility for my thoughts and actions were key to making my way out of this roundabout of limited beliefs, and the best piece of advice I received during the process was:

“It ‘just doesn’t matter’ Have a go, do your best, learn from it, and press on. At times ‘good enough’ is good enough.”

Here are the key things that keep me on the straight and narrow:
• I don’t shy away for fear of making mistakes: at least I am actually doing stuff and can take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes.
• I avoid negative self-talk and replace it with more positive and helpful statements, such as switching “I have lost” to “I have learnt.”
• When something goes wrong, I try to keep it in proportion by asking myself: “On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is death) how important is this issue and how important will it be tomorrow, next week, next year?”
• I resist any tendency to become self-absorbed, and I find that helping others is a great way to accomplish this.
• I have learned to laugh about myself!

If you want to learn more from some fine experts, here are links to a TED talk Reshma Saujani’s Teach Girls Bravery Not Perfection and book to read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.

Finally, some wise words from Seth Godwin:

“Start small, start now. This is much better than, ‘start big, start later.’ One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect. You can merely start.”



Rachel is a business & educational psychologist.  After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation.  Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field. 

Combat Loneliness with Kindness

Loneliness is a very harmful condition and, unfortunately for all of us, it is on the increase. Here are some facts, established by researchers.

  • Loneliness In England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women
  • It is reaching epidemic proportions among young people
  • It is a great affliction for older people
  • It is twice as deadly as obesity
  • It is as potent a cause of death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism, accidents depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide are all more prevalent amongst lonely people
  • The cost to employers is estimated at £2.5bn a year
  • At least 1 in 10 people attending family doctors say they are lonely
  • Loneliness increases risk of an early death by 26%
  • Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe

George Monbiot, the writer known for his environmental and political activism, calls this the “Age of Loneliness” and reminds us that early humans had to depend on each other for their very existence, whereas today we live more and more apart. He concludes that we are naturally social creatures and we cannot cope alone. (See the age of loneliness is killing us.)

As society changes, as we age and as our loved ones die, we can all expect to experience loneliness at some time. However, we can and must take steps to recover from it. One way to do this is to be kind to others. Kindness – the embodiment of empathy – is a way of reaching out and, in so doing, making contact with other people who may need help just as much as you do.
Here are some other practical steps to combat loneliness:

Talk about your feelings. Loneliness isn’t your fault and there are people there to offer support. Your GP is a good person to start with and there are phone lines such as SupportLine for children and young adults, or The Silver Line for folk aged 55 or over.
Do something new. Meet people and rejuvenate your curiosity for life by becoming proactive in a new interest. Men’s Shed, for example, is a great place for older men to meet and work on practical projects together.
Contribute. Identify a cause that interests you, find a group of like-minded people and volunteer. It could mean joining community gardening group, or setting up an initiative, like the Rural Coffee Caravan, or taking part in a telephone-based book group.
Phone a friend. Approach positively someone you’ve not seen for a while – chat and suggest meeting up ‘I was thinking of you and let’s grab coffee…’. You might find a warmer welcome than you expected.

One of my favourite psychologists, Guy Winch, talks movingly – and entertainingly – about loneliness in his TED presentation The Case for Emotional Hygiene . I recommend you check it out for inspiration and guidance.

I’m off to phone a friend or two – how about you?


Rachel is a business & educational psychologist.  After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation.  Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field. 

What Is Action Learning?

Action Learning Sets are one of those concepts that we think we know about, but when we really think about it we are often a bit vague – this in turn suggests that the benefits are also poorly understood. It was with this in mind that I recently ran an Action Learning Set for a mixed group as a demonstration of the value in creating new and deeper thinking among the set members.


The room had its fair share of sceptics, added to which we were in a false situation, in that we effectively had an audience, which does little to engender the safe, trusted space needed for truly creative thinking; but not to be defeated we pressed ahead.

The set was made up of eight volunteers – in my opinion the maximum number for an effective set – facilitated by myself and observed by a further dozen or so people. We sat in a circle with all members able to make eye contact with one another. After agreeing which member of the group would ‘present’ their issue, we listened carefully as the Presenter laid out the facts of their situation as they saw it and the various factors affecting or preventing him from moving forward. Members of the set listened intently and in silence, after around 5 minutes the scene was set and I, the Facilitator, invited any clarification questions, this completed, we went into open questions.


A critical aspect of Action Learning is that it is not advice giving – all questions are open and are in no way ‘leading’. Participants come with a sense of curiosity and an understanding that the right solution is the one the Presenter works out for themselves. As a new group, it was no surprise that they found it difficult to resist giving the benefit of their extensive experience and several times we had to pause and reframe questions to be truly open. Well-timed and short questions usually have the greatest impact, as was the case with this group – we watched the presenter’s facial expressions in response to “and what else?” – the question drew him up short and then he went first into deep thought before a real light bulb moment.


Of-course, Action Learning is not just about thinking things through, the clue is in the name – it’s about taking action. From our short session of thoughtful, open questioning our presenter went away with a number of very practical actions on which he will report back to the group. His reaction – “totally immersive, a powerful way to become unstuck”.


This is a learning experience not just for the Presenter, but also for the whole group. And the naysayers? Everyone declared themselves on-board, with the exception of two, who declared themselves scientists only interested in facts!

For the 90% plus the BENEFITS OF ACTION LEARNING include: –

  • Actionable outcomesHow to grow business
  • Long lasting problem solving competency
  • Enhanced creativity & curiosity
  • New questioning & listening skills
  • Increased resilience/ability to deal with stress
  • Improved leadership
  • Team building
  • Heightened emotional intelligence



If you would like to experience the benefits for yourself, we will, (subject to demand), be running two FREE ACTION LEARNING SETS in Manchester during July and September 2017. If you would like to be involved please drop us a line at enquiries@yibp.co.uk for a chance to be included – first come, first served – good luck.


The full PROCESS, (not all of which is covered above), is made up of a number of steps:

  1. Arriving Round
  2. Bidding
  3. Presenting
  4. Questions
  5. Action
  6. Reflection
  7. Process Review


About the Author: Fran McArthur is an  ILM accredited action learning facilitator, business coach, trainer and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of up to £10m/100 employees and who wish to effect positive change. She collaborates with them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach

Managing My Anger

Alternatives to losing your temper (John Hegley) 

Sit on your hands. Visit the Hebrides. Knit.  Unknit your brow. Build a model of your anger out of matches. Catch a falling star and put it in a poem. Watch a soap. Make some soap. Send the world a message of hope. Coil up in a medicine ball. Call a nurse. Reverse. Close your eyes and do the washing up. Sing. Pray. Have a fig roll. Have a nice day.

Someone told me, years ago, that I am too emotional.  I knew at the time this was intended as a criticism but I decided to interpret it as a compliment.  I am glad to be so emotional because it means, among others things, that my feelings run deep and true. Emotions also help to embed memories – in my case mostly good, although some are bad or sad – which all add up to make me who I am.

However, as a child my emotions often got the better of me, especially my anger which frequently spilled over into disruptive behaviour – shouting, screaming and general nastiness which made things very uncomfortable for me and even more so for those around me. Today I still get angry – there is a lot to be angry about in this world, injustice, poverty, violence, lies etc. – but I have learnt,   as part of my resilience training, how to prevent that anger from turning into negative behaviour.

To manage your emotional responses, start by recognising the feelings and giving them a name to acknowledge what is going on. Suppressing emotions is the wrong way to go as it stops us from being authentic with ourselves and hinders our ability to learn from experience.  Instead, aim to channel emotions into something positive to help yourself – and others – benefit from the outcome. You may find that anger, for example, is an irresistible reaction, but the power of its expression does not have to be destructive: try using the adrenalin it creates as a stimulant to mobilize you into action to overcome obstacles instead.

Here are some tips I have learnt to help me manage my anger:

  1. Use the STOP model:


………Take a deep breath

……… Observe openly and gently

 ………Perceive positively

  1. Give yourself a few moments for the anger to subside: “Right now I know I am feeling angry, but I know it will pass. I am not the emotion”
  2. Go and do something else, turn away from the trigger, engage in something you know makes you happy (for me it would be to go for a run).
  3. Recall a happy memory: make it specific, re-live it in your head.
  4. Look after yourself: engage your senses – touch, taste, sound, sight, smell – and focus them on beautiful things.

Life would be so very bland without emotions, we simply need to be in control of them, rather than allowing them to control us.

A couple of ‘emotional’ links to check out:



About the Author: Rachel is a business & educational psychologist.  After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation.  Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Hands of friends

Who are your best friends?

I have a fabulous set of friends, a terrific mix of characters of all ages, shapes and sizes – and all with different backgrounds and experiences. I love spending time with them and I strive to treat them as well as I would have them treat me. My friends are a powerful and supportive network. We champion one another and have a lot of fun in the process. All of this is important when times get tough and we can help each other out. Together we are a resilient bunch.
But there is one friend who sometimes undermines my resilience: Me! I’m talking about my inner critic, the one who beats me up when I have failed at something, the one who says “I’m so stupid! How could I be so dumb! I’m just not good enough.” This type of recrimination causes only anxiety and worry; this inner critic drains my resilience and inhibits my positive actions. What kind of friend is she?
I have learned from experience and research that the antidote to such negativity is self-compassion. The trick is to be kind to yourself; refrain from judging yourself or comparing yourself with others. Simply accept who you are and build upon your strengths. On the face of it self-compassion might appear to be a lazy and selfish option but the fact is that people who are compassionate to themselves are able and more likely to be compassionate towards others. They are happier, healthier and more optimistic – all qualities that the resilient personality has in spades.
To find out how self-compassionate you are here’s a link to Dr Kristin Neff’s (pioneering self-compassion researcher, author and teacher) questionnaire and for more info her book will tell you all you need to know about Self-Compassion (William Morrow, 2011)

And so I suggest that we play the role of a supportive friend to ourselves rather than a critical one.

Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Walking and Talking


Ever since, as a toddler, I took my first confident steps and uttered my first coherent sentences those two activities – walking and talking – have remained among my favourites. This is fortunate because both are beneficial to one’s wellbeing and help build resilience: walking is an efficient way of keeping physically fit*, whereas talking is a good way to exercise the mind. I do, of course, have other favourite activities but not all of them can be said to be as good for me so I’ll focus on these two and, in particular, the art of combining them as one.

Sometimes I like to walk and talk alone – in which case the talking takes the form of an internal dialogue, an effective way of ordering my thoughts. I find that stretching your mind while stretching your legs is a very effective use of time: and you can add even more value by taking the dog along.

But when what you want is to talk out loud and engage with others, invite your friends along: it’s a great way to socialise, substituting a healthy walk for a potentially unhealthy session in the wine bar.

And getting down to business can also be done effectively on the hoof. A walking discussion with business or work colleagues can be a great creative stimulus: by taking yourselves physically outside of the box you stand a better chance of thinking outside of it as well. Check out Nilofer Merchant’s Ted talk – got a meeting? take a walk

The best walk/talk sessions combine all of the above. They take you on the journey towards that ultimate destination, life-work harmony, a place where everything comes together: you socialise with your network and from that interaction flows your work. In this ideal world there is no dividing life up between healthy recreation and unhealthy work practices. But if you want to get there you have to start walking the walk and talking the talk.


*Walking – ‘the closest thing we have to a wonder drug’                                                                                                          Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Thomas Frienden.



The Author: Rachel Ward Lilley is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Now it’s official: Window boxes are good for your resilience

When bad things happen in life we need to call on our resilience to bring us back from feelings of fear, anger and sadness – and one of the ways we build our level of resilience is by ensuring our wellbeing. Often overlooked here is the part that nature plays in making us feel good about ourselves. We intuitively know the beneficial effects of spending time in nature but the body of scientific research backing this up is growing. A recent report from Natural England shows that taking part in nature-based activities helps people who are suffering from mental health problems and can contribute reducing levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. And in April, Peter James and a team at Harvard University published a study into the relationship between exposure to green spaces and mortality rates.

People who live in rural areas get a daily boost to their wellbeing merely by waking up and taking in their green and pleasant surrounds. City dwellers might rely on a day in the country or beside the sea for an occasional injection of well-being goodness. But if you can’t do either, do not fret – you can look elsewhere for small, daily doses of eco-therapy. Get a fix in the local park; connect with the trees in the street; observe the birds and the bees in your – or anyone else’s – garden; appreciate whatever scrap of green you come across in the city. Don’t just walk on by – look for nature’s grace wherever you can.

Then move it up a notch. Get down and dirty: plant something, nurture it, watch it grow, harvest it, eat it. Distract your mind from worry by marvelling at how nature works its wonders. All right, you may not have a garden or an allotment, but maybe you can become the fond owner of a window-box. After all, it’s the process that counts, not the scale.

I live in Manchester city centre and get my early morning fix of wellbeing in the form of a session at the gym. But I also take advantage of the walk there and back, through China Town, where I stop to check up on the trees and bamboo, and the detour through Sackville Gardens where I enjoy the grass and plants. And when I get back to my study, I have my window boxes to admire.


Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.

Free As A Bird


Nothing’s impossible I have found

For when my chin is on the ground

I pick myself up, dust myself off

And start all over again.


When he sang those lyrics Nat King Cole was giving us sound advice: he was urging us – ever so persuasively – to muster our powers of resilience.


I know: sometimes it’s easier said than done. One of the fundamentals of resilience is the ability to maintain an optimistic outlook, but that doesn’t come naturally to everybody. If our confidence is dented by a setback, say, or our energy levels are low because of poor health then our outlook can become quite negative. So what do we do at times like that?


Well, the good news is that resilience can be built, and the tools to build it with are readily available. Here is one that I use, a list of what I call staples: it consists of prompts – remembering times when I felt good about myself, and actions – a few simple activities designed to boost those positive neurons:


  • I think of the day I passed my driving test and felt as free as a bird.
  • I remember the sun setting over the islands in the west of Scotland and am inspired by beauty.
  • I recall fun times – like when I went skiing with my nephews – and smile.
  • I call a friend and arrange to meet for coffee, a chat, a laugh.
  • I go to the cinema or to an art gallery and am inspired by other people’s imagination, ambition and vision.


The list could go on but any or just a few of these staples will bring me swiftly back to a positive mindset. What could be on your list?



The Author: Rachel is a business & educational psychologist. After working for many years both in and advising SMEs her current work relates to issues of communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past seven years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.