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

Willpower = Achievement?

One in four new year resolutions fail by January 8th.

Despite what we were told, it seems that willpower is not the golden bullet for getting things done we thought. According to research by Professor David Desteno, (professor of psychology at Northeastern University, USA) rather than driving us to achievement, willpower is actually quite toxic, it creates stress and has long-term negative health outcomes. Remember that child who deferred the gratification of eating one marshmallow now, by waiting patiently to be given two? She seems destined not only for higher long- term earnings, but also for a stress-related coronary!


What is the learning from this? Apparently the solution is not to live a life of complete hedonism, living for the moment with no thought for the future; instead it is to be social in our endeavours. This means working as and for a group or team, rather than for your own ends. Why so? It turns out that we are able to defer gratification and dig deep in our reserves much more easily and with much less stress when we do so with feelings of compassion for others and with pride. Doing something in and for the group is actually easier and more successful than following our individual goals. Working together has the natural pay-off of security, which for social beings like us humans, who rely on others for our survival, is a fundamental need. Doing things for others has a reward in and of itself, as well as driving us on.


Whoever your team is, make sure you plan together, and for the good of the whole; this way you will enjoy a much higher probability of success without the emotional grunt work required for solitary pursuits.



The Author

Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator and non-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives who lead organisations with a turnover of up to £10 million or less than 100 employees, and who wish to effect positive change, particularly in the environmental sector. She collaborates to help them achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach.

You can contact her at

enquiries@yibp.co.uk  or  07789520205


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. 

Space To Breath

Let’s start with a summer quiz (the kind I like, where there is no right or wrong answer nor do you have to disclose your results) to test just how much space-to-breathe we have at present:

Q1.  What activities have you or will you engage in this summer that you would rather not? Perhaps they are things you usually do and so just keep doing.

Q2.  What do you have in your wardrobe that you have not worn for the past year?

Q3.  What do you own that you do not use – or have never used?

Q4.  How tidy is your workspace?

Q5.  How much time do you spend on line? (Be honest here!)

Q6.  How many emails do you have in your in-box?

Q7.  On a scale of 1/10 how busy/complex does your life feel?  (1= not busy/10 = v busy)

As you reflect upon your answers, wonder if living with less could actually make you feel better. For me, I know I feel calmer and more in control when my environment is neat and tidy.  The evidence is growing that saying goodbye to things that get in the way and serve no purpose can make us happier.  So, is it time for you to de-clutter?

Fumio Sasaki tells us in his new book, Goodbye, Things, about his extreme clear-out. He was once a big consumer – and hoarder – of knick-knacks that he thought made him an interesting person.  He spent a lot of time comparing himself with others and concluded “I was miserable and made other people miserable too”.  One day he decided to take action and gave away most of his possessions. He now lives with just the bare essentials. For example, instead of two or three wardrobes crammed with clothes, he now owns just three shirts and four pairs of trousers and says that throwing things away and having fewer things made him feel happier each day.

Fumio is a hardcore minimalist but his message is that de-cluttering is more than just physical tidying up: it is an exercise in learning about true happiness.

So is it time for you to try it?   Think of a time you made do with less – maybe when you travelled somewhere remote.  Did it make you feel liberated?  Did it make you feel elated? Did it make you feel happy?

I confess – and it will come as no surprise to those that know me well – that I love to de-clutter.  In fact, I schedule four days a year to reviewing the way I am working, addressing what is accumulating in my life – not only physical things but also issues that eat into my time.  I edit what I have and what I do and find the cliché that less is more is true.

A lot of us spend too much time feeling overwhelmed by what we have to do, yet harbour doubts about how much of it is truly meaningful. Simplifying our lives gives us the breathing space we need to rediscover that which is important.

Enjoy the rest of your summer – and remember to do some de-cluttering: one of the knock-on effects will be ecological – a reduction in consumption equals a smaller carbon footprint and more money in your pocket! What’s not to like?

And for fellow TED talk junkies – Graham Hill has a great five-minute talk on the subject – Less Stuff More Happiness.


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

Successful Education

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” – Socrates

What is the purpose of education? Surely it should be about preparing our children for the world they are about to inherit? Certainly, many students leave school, college and university with a string of ‘impressive’ qualifications, but many do not. Either way, this doesn’t mean they are fully prepared for the world, whether it be finding a job or, as may soon be the case, finding a way to live in a world where robots do the jobs.

Here are some noteworthy stats to consider:

• 53% of recent college graduates are under or unemployed
• 45% of recent college graduates are still living with their parents
• 65% of today’s grade-school children will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet
• Millennials will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives
• The World Economic Forum reports that creativity will become one of the top three skills in demand by 2020
• Emotional Intelligence, never before in the top 10, will become the sixth most in-demand skill by 2020

I agree with Socrates: “tell and repeat” teaching is not enough. We need to help children learn how to learn, get excited, fail but keep trying and realize they can make a difference to their lives. What I see and experience in schools is a great deal of dedicated hard work, commitment and care, but it is within a system that leaves little room for creativity and the teaching of resilience which I believe are two key ingredients of education. There are, of course, some schools and teachers managing this but their work is against the grain of the system.

I recently went to see a screening of Most Likely to Succeed (directed by Greg Whiteley) which recognizes the need to change and “aims to help schools re-image their purpose and create learning experiences that prepare kids for life”. The main message of the film is that children of all ages like and want to learn through work that is relevant, meaningful and hands on. I was inspired by the viewing and loved seeing the students of High Tech High using project based learning as a tool which allowed them to choose what they would work on, work in teams, fail but try again – and all with a deadline of having to present their experiences and learnings to their fellow, students, staff, parents and community.

Two people who have rightly been banging-on for quite some time about the need for creativity in schools are Ken Robinson – no apologies for recommending again his famed 2006 TED talk Schools Kill Creativity – and Seth Godin, whose manifesto Stop Killing Dreams is well worth reading. Also, newly out in paperback, is Angela Duckworth’s fascinating, rigorous and practical GRIT – why passion and resilience are the secrets to success.

Let’s keep weaving creativity and resilience into our work with children (and adults too). Keep discussing and campaigning, wherever and whenever we can, to change the education system. We owe it to the future of our children.



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.

Setting Your 2017 Objectives

The final weekend of the year is a great time to reflect on your performance against the goals you set for 2016, (or perhaps you didn’t?) and to decide your priorities for 2017.

If this is not something you have previously done I’d really like to encourage you to do so this time, so that you can start the year with clarity. In much the same way as your monthly one-to-ones provide space to agree appropriate objectives and to review progress/discuss ways of overcoming barriers, having annual objectives is an important part of your journey to success.

While this might initially seem an onerous task, remember each journey starts with a single step. I suggest keeping it very simple with a 2×2 matrix, (see link for our template), which lays out objectives not just for your work life, but has a more holistic approach to ensure you avoid burn-out and really think deeply about what you want to achieve.

It’s a good idea to do a first draft with two or three goals in each quadrant and then sleep on it before returning the next day, that way you can be certain that your goals are the right ones. From here create a realistic plan to make them a reality by the end of the year, (rather than a December sprint!)

Don’t miss out quadrant four ‘Well-being’ – this is key to ensuring balance and the avoidance of burnout.

Have a marvellous 2017.


About the Author: Fran McArthur is a 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

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.

Resilience – Spring Cleaning….


The New Year is now well established, those resolutions have kicked in (or not), spring is bursting forth and with it comes the urge to regenerate. But before we get the broom out, let’s review and reflect upon what 2016 has brought us so far. Note the low points and relish the high ones but, as an exercise in resilience, we should also celebrate the experiences and mark our gratitude for their addition to our store of learning: gratitude is a key attribute of resilient people. Who would you like to thank for the past couple of months? There must be someone. Why not go and do it – like a spring clean? Send a quick text, email or a message on FB.



We can now turn our attention to the long days and months ahead, planning and reviewing our purpose and values so as to ensure that our goals and ambitions are aligned for the rest of the year. Having a plan is another key attribute of resilient people. If you’ve not examined your values before or want a recap complete a psychology test, 123test is just one of the many free tools available for you to try.



So, look back and review, look forward and plan – but never at the expense of the present. Resilient people are also mindful: they are aware of – and keen to enjoy – the present, the here-and-now.   And if mindfulness is new to you, a good place to start is to check out Headspace (other sites are available).


And so, over the coming months, be grateful and have a plan, but don’t forget to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life. Happy spring time!


If you would like to learn a bit more about resilience and gain some practical tools about getting more out of your life in 2016 why not join one of our half-day workshops?


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.