A new weapon in the fight against procrastination

A few months ago I caved in and bought Getting Things Done. Although I didn’t get it read, I did get as far as the bit about To Do lists, and closing mental loops: you keep thinking the same thing over and over again, until you either do it or write it down. So I started a master to do list and that seems to sort of help by getting all the stuff I have to do out of my head and on to paper.

But I’m still left at the end of each day wondering what I have accomplished. I reach a point, around 7 or 8pm… or 10 or 11pm, when I think that it’s about time I gave up for the evening, yet I rarely feel that my day is done, that I’m finished. There’s always more to do. The list just gets longer, never shorter.

Now, for some clients, I have to keep a record of my hours. I’ve been doing this in an Excel spreadsheet, because it’s easy to add things up in Excel. What’s not so easy, though, is jotting things down. I tried keeping multiple spreadsheets, with each project on a different sheet, but it didn’t work. I’d get confused as to exactly how much time I’d spent on different things – the only reason Excel worked for my client is because I was working on-site, so I knew the time I arrived, the time I left, and what breaks I’d had, so therefore I knew how much time to bill them for. When I am sitting at home with blog posts to write, email to answer and all the other bits and bobs that I need to do, it was harder to separate out how much time I spent doing what.

Then, my god! A flash of genius. (Here’s where the new weapon comes in.)

I bought a desk diary. Yup, that’s write, a book made of paper with dates printed on each page. I can jot things down in it. It’s great! Who’d’ve thought?

So I now have my three-pronged approach.

1. My master to-do list allows me to clear out my brain as much as possible, and hopefully helps me to remember to do stuff.

2. My ’45 mins’ rule – that I work solidly for 45 mins, then make myself have a break (often turns into 50 or 55, but the idea is to get up and move about at least once an hour).

3. My diary in which I write down how many hours I have worked on which project.

What this undeniably does is tell me where my time has gone. For example, yesterday I spent 4.5 hours replying to Open Rights Group email. I went through my inbox, replying only to ORG emails, and after 4.5 hours I had had enough. I hadn’t finished, but I had done about as much of that as I can cope with in one day.

I had never realised that I was spending so much time on email. Previously, I would have felt like that was a day wasted, that I’d achieved nothing. After all, no documents prepared, no campaigning done, no client meetings, nothing that you can pick up and show and say ‘This is what I did’.

I think knowing what you’ve done is a key part of battling procrastination. You put off doing things that are big, because you think “I need a clear 5 hour to do that”, or you interrupt yourself with email when working on something else, or you sit there answering endless streams of emails and wondering where the time has gone. Knowing what you’ve done, and how long it’s taken, puts a shape on your day. You can say “I’ve done one hour of my five hour task”, or “I’ve spent 4.5 hours answering emails”, and suddenly it doesn’t seem so much as if you’ve wasted your time. You realise that some of that stuff that felt like procrastination was, in fact, work.

The other thing it lets me do is say “OK, I’m gonna have one hour a day of ‘Suw’ time, where I blog, or work on my site, or do whatever the hell I need to do”. The thing about being a freelance is that admin and finding new clients may not be ‘billable’ time, but it’s still stuff that needs to be done. Yet it’s infinitely easy to put off. When you have a client who needs something, or you have a deadline, your own admin is the first thing to be put on the back burner.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve spoken to other freelances and heard them say “Oh, I really need to update my website, but I just can’t find the time!”. But if you don’t make the time, you end up falling into that feast/famine cycle, where you spend your feast times working like a dog on your client’s stuff, only to discover when that contract ends that you have nothing to take its place and that famine is on the horizon. You just have to recognise that the tedious admin you don’t want to do is still work, and you still have to find time to do it during the working day.

The other thing I’m trying hard to fight is my over-developed work ethic which would, if I let it have its way, have me working every hour I am awake. I’ve done it in the past – and I don’t know many people who haven’t. Insane hours. Exhaustion. And a perverse sense of misplaced pride in it all.

I want to write a full post about that, but suffice to say, I’m becoming more and more jealous of my weekends, more and more jealous of my evenings. When you accept that your To Do list is more like a Mobius Strip than an actual list, you accept that it will never been finished. The question then becomes “At what point do I abandon my day as ‘finished’?”. Sometimes it’s dictated by deadlines, but more often than not it should be dictated by “When I have worked a full working day”, which I interpret to be between 7 and 8 hours.

With my old-fangled invention of a desk diary, I can at least now say “OK, time’s up!”. Emails which have not been replied to will have to wait. Documents that still need work will also have to wait. When my evening begins, that’s my time.

British corporate/brand blogs

What are the big name corporate and brand blogs in the UK? The New Pr Wiki – an invaluable resource for anyone into business blogging – has a list of CEO/leadership and corporate blogs, which I have shamelessly reproduced below. But are Thomson and Guiness really the only big brands blogging in the UK? Surely there must be more than that?

UPDATE: Have added more to the list, and slightly rearranged things so we have business blogs, whether by individuals, and whether branded or not, and official household name consumer-facing blogs. Are there any more of the latter?

2nd UPDATE: Added even more, and have been pointed at this BritBlogs category by Stuart Bruce. I am not going to sift through it for additions, because I’m not sure that’s going to actually achieve my aim. I’ll admit, I was hoping to see more household names.

British business blogs

Matt O’Neill, Activ Media

David Rossiter, Analyst Insight

Andy Hayler, Kalido

David Terrar, Managing Director, D Squared C


David Ferrabee, Hill & Knowlton

Joel Cere, Hill & Knowlton

Niall Cook, Hill and Knowlton

Sally Costerton, Hill & Knowlton

Richard Charkin, Chief Executive, Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Chris Lewis, CEO, LEWIS PR

Jon Silk, LEWIS PR

Ellee SeymourProActive PR

Richard Gaunt and Glenn O’Neil, Benchpoint

Interactive PR (not sure if this is a business or a group of like-minded individuals)

James Warren, director of web relations, Weber Shandwick

Mark Shanahan, Leapfrog Corporate Communications

David Phillips, ManagementClarity

Michael Blowers, Media Evaluation Research

Andrew Brown, Mediaklik

Andrew B. Smith, Object Marketing

Antony Mayfield, Harvard Public Relations UK

Rainier PR Breakfast Bulletin

Justin Hayward, MS&L

Simon Collister

Alan Moore, Managing Director, SMLXL

Melanie Surplice, Factiva


David Tebbutt, Managing Director, Brainstorm Software

DrKW Telco Tech

Drew Benvie, LEWIS PR

David Davis, PR consultant (is that a business blog?)

Audacious Communications

Adrian Cronin-Lukas, Director, Big Blog Company

Custom Communication

Blog Relations and The Angel Blog

Mark Borkowski

Paul Woodhouse, The Tinbasher

Modern Marketing

JP Rangaswami, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, UK

“Consult The Guru PR & Marketing Blog

Dan Leach Dot Com

Edelman UK

Thomas Mahon, English Cut

Dave Jennings, CEO, Envigour Systems Ltd.




Mark Rogers, CEO, Market Sentinel

Net Resources

Net Resources

Stephen Davies

Stephen Newton, Public Relations Consultant

Public Relations Online

Stephen Waddington, managing director of Rainier PR

Neil MacLean, Reputation Plus

Simon Waldman, Director of Digital Publishing, Guardian Newspapers

David Upton, Director, Stirling Reid Limited

Stuart Bruce, Founder, Bruce Marshall Associates LLP

Jackie Danicki, Engagement Alliance

Baukejan and Vanessa

Eie Flud

Score Communications

Real Oasis



British* household name consumer-facing blogs

Thomson Holidays

The Guinness Blog


The Observer**

I’m on the hunt for more British business blogs – of all types – so please add suggestions in the comments!

* OK, English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish… not that I want to split hairs, frankly.

** Note, I didn’t include the Guardian blogs because they are subject focused, whereas The Observer blog is about The Observer… or at least, it was the last time I looked.

Thinking about ‘de-linearising’ media

Fantastic post from Tristan Ferne on the nature of time-based media, complete with little diagrams and everything. It’s a follow on from the Annotatable Audio project that Tristan worked with Tom Coates and others at the BBC on, and it sets my head a-spinning.

What if…

The problem with a radio show-related blog post is that the discussion is not only distinctly textual, it’s also decontextualised because the blog post is separated from the audio. If you don’t hear the show at the time it’s broadcast, (or during it’s ‘play again’ period of a week, on the Beeb at least) then commenting on it is hard – you can only comment after the fact. Even if you do hear the show, the blog doesn’t allow you to comment easily on a specific aspect of the broadcast discussion without having to reiterate that point up front. So whilst the blog is a valuable tool, it still limits the conversation.

What if you were making a discussion radio programme, and you could firstly chapterise it issue by issue, and then sub-chapterise it by caller, or by point made, and then people could both annotate the audio, adding in links and supporting/refuting evidence, and could leave audio comments using Skype or Odeo or whatever on specific sections of the programme.

I’ll admit most of this post is informed by conversations with Kevin (we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about innovation in journalism recently), but I think it pretty much applies to any type of show where you want discussion, whether they are radio or podcast. I think there’s a huge opportunity here not just for podcasters to make their shows more interactive, but for big media to find new ways to reconnect with their audiences.

Renaissance journalism

Last week, I took part in a chat amongst journalists, designers and progammers on an internal e-mail list about how we work together. It was touched off by the e-mail interview with Adrian Holovaty at the Online Journalism Review.

One of Adrian’s sage bits of advice:

It all starts with the people, really. If you want innovation, hire people who are capable of it. Hire people who know what’s possible.

He says hire programmers, which news organisations are doing. But even journalists – like myself – who can’t programme but still know what’s possible are important. I took one programming class, ever, and that was Pascal back in the late 80s. I dropped it after one semester when I realised that my brain just didn’t work that way.

Yet my journalism school specifically and my university – the University of Illinois – more generally prepared me well for what was to come. I learned about all aspects of journalism, including design. I got the basics, plus I did lunch with the developers who worked on Mosaic, so got an early introduction to the web. There are journalists who aren’t programmers who know what’s possible, and quite honestly we are just waiting to be unleashed so we can get on with it.

What’s holding us back? Lots. As journalists, we’re obsessed with today’s deadlines. But too often, that focus comes at the cost of innovation that, for most of the internet, happened a while ago. We haven’t burned the business cards as Jeff Jarvis suggested and are stuck with organisational structures that concentrate solely on putting out a daily newspaper or feeding the beast of the 24-hour broadcast news machine, but which aren’t flexible enough to free up innovators to work on other projects. In a world of Google and nimble start-ups, news organisations need to invest in a little R&D and give us room to experiment.

Instead, the hungry innovators get pigeonholed, even when our skill set defies categorisation. I’m a journalist, a blogger, a podcaster, a cameraman, a photographer, a hacker (albeit not a very good one). As my partner in podcasting, Ben Metcalfe, says, if I were a town, I’d be San Luis Obispo, halfway between the content capital of LA and the geek creativity crucible of Silicon Valley. Don’t try to shoehorn me into your org chart. You’re org chart is part of the problem. You’ll get less value from me in an old school position than you’ll get if you let me do what I love: Get up every morning, work like a dog and create a brand new medium.

I am passionate about journalism, and I’m passionate about what journalists, designers and programmers can achieve together when unleashed on this amazing canvas called the internet. I get excited thinking about what I can do with all of this new fangled mobile communications technology. How does that transform journalism? Live, immediate, raw, real. Must read, must see, must participate in, be a part of content. That’s what it does.

Second class citizens, still

And while you’re at it, as Adrian says, stop treating us geeks like the hired help. Adrian uses the term IT Monkey, I believe. New media isn’t new anymore. In the UK, online advertising spending surpassed radio in 2004, and it is expected to surpass national newspaper spending this year.

And notice this:

Excluding internet spending, total UK media advertising would be in recession with television, national and regional press all reporting revenue declines this year, it said.

This isn’t the lates 90s when people said of the web, “Show me the money”. The money is there. The audience is there. The news industry needs to shift its priorities both in hiring and spending.

How to change?

There are some small organisations like the Lawrence Journal World and Lawrence.com in Lawrence, Kansas (where Adrian Holovaty worked before joining the Washington Post), Nord Jyske in Denmark and many others, who understand multimedia, participatory media and are doing it really well. These are small shops where the editors, journos, developers, designers work together in a much more seemless and collaborative way.

But while Adrian is doing some great stuff when it comes to the innovative packaging and presentation of news at the Washington Post, what other possibilities are there? What could we achive when programmers, designers and programme makers work together during the whole process, rather than just the last few steps? Add in a little WiFi, 3G, radical in the field/on the ground newsgathering, and right away you’ve got a journalistic revolution.

I’d love the chance to focus on a single project, with the web at its heart and with on-demand audio and video. (No broadcast – broadcast would subsume this project. The media could be used on TV or radio, but it’s not a goal unto itself.) I’d work with a multi-skilled team with overlapping skills so they are literate in each others’ specialities and understand the challenges each will encounter. They would be the sort of people who understand that web isn’t just a publishing medium. Community and participation would be central to this project, both for promotion and co-creation. This is an X-project. A news incubator.

There are a couple of key issues that I need to think more about. Some stories would be perfect for this treatment, but not all. Some audiences would eat this up, but not all. We should focus on the right stories for the right audiences – you might call them ‘edge cases’ but perhaps ‘early adopters’ is a better way of thinking of them. IM, RSS, sharing. Mash ups. New news. News for the MySpace generation.

News has to evolve if it is to survive. And there are already journalists and geeks with mad ninja skills just waiting for a chance to show the world what can be done.

Comment is F**ked

First off, I want to say that I really admire the ambition of the Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free. It is one of the boldest statements made by any media company that participation needs to be central to a radical revamp of traditional content strategies.

As Steve Yelvington said this week:

Editors, please listen. If you’re not rethinking your entire content strategy around participative principles, you’re placing your future at risk.

The Guardian seems to understand this need for participation to be integrated with its traditional content, but as with many media companies: “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” It is, therfore, not hugely surprising to find that Comment is Free is having a few teething troubles. Ben Hammersley, European alpha geek and one of the people behind CiF, knew there would be risks:

Perhaps the most prominent liberal newspaper in the anglophone world, opening a weblog for comment and opinion, with free and open user commenting is, to put it mildly, asking for trouble. … This means that we have to employ a whole combination of technological and social countermeasures to make sure that the handful of trolls do not, as they say, ruin it for the rest of us. Frankly, it gives me the fear.

Ben was right to be concerned. Honestly, I wish there were a clearer headed assessment of the risks involved with blogging by media companies. Don’t get me wrong. I think that media companies should blog, but the risks aren’t as simple as they may appear and something on the scale of CiF is of course going to have problems. The Guardian appear to have focused mainly on the risks posed by commenters and have put a lot of energy into figuring out how they can have open comments without falling foul of UK libel law.

But people are people, and you are bound to get abusive, rude or irrelevant comments. Any publicly commentable website will reflect the cross-section of society that reads it, so it’s inevitable that some comments will not be as civil and insightful as we would prefer. Trolls happen.

Just this week, Engadget had to temporarily shut off its comments “because of the unacceptable level of noise / spam / junk / flaming / rudeness going on throughout our boards”.

Where the Guardian has fallen over is in their assessment of the risks posed by their choice of columnist to blog on CiF. Rather than thinking about who would make a really good blogger, they seem to have made the same mistake as the rest of the big media who have tried their hand at blogging: They’ve given their biggest names blogs, despite the fact that these people have no idea how to. Now a bit of a tiff has kicked off between the Guardian’s stable of columnists, the commenters on Comment is Free and the bloggers there. (Thanks to my colleague Nick Reynolds at the BBC who blogged about this internally and brought it to my attention.)

Catherine Bennett writes a column so full of uninformed generalisations about blogging in the UK, specifically political blogging, as to completely lack credibility. She seems to be trying to discredit the Euston Manifesto, a net-born political movement in the UK, by painting it as the creation of a sexually obsessed, semi-literate male-dominated blogging clique. I’ll leave it to you to follow the link to the Manifesto and draw your own conclusions.

Another Guardian columnist, Jackie Ashley, defends professional columnists, and says: “To those of you who think you know more than I do, I’m eager to hear the arguments: just don’t call me a fucking stupid cow.” Polly Toynbee asks commentors: “Who are you all? Why don’t you stop hiding behind your pseudonyms and tell us about yourselves?”

Ms Toynbee why don’t you step out from behind your byline and tell us a little about yourself instead of belittling us? It’s usually worked for me when trying to dampen an online flame war.

I’m sitting here reading her column, and I really don’t understand how she expected this to put out the fires. She asks for civility and for people to tell us who they are, but then she says of one of her anonymous detractors:

What do you do all day, MrPikeBishop, that you have time to spend your life on this site? I suppose the answer may be that you are a paraplegic typing with one toe and then I shall feel guilty at picking you out as one particular persecutor.

What do you expect when you respond to ad hominem attacks with patronising ad hominem attacks? Do you really see this as a solution? Are you treating your audience with the kind of respect that you for some reason think you deserve by default?

Ms Toynbee professes to answer her many e-mails, but I do get the sense that the Guardian’s columnists are simply not used to this kind of medium, they are not used to getting feedback in public where they can’t just hit ‘delete’ to get rid of a pesky critic.

Suw – who I should inform Ms Bennett is female and blogs, thank you very much – likened such old school thinking to this:

It’s like them walking into a pub, making their pronouncements and then walking out. Later, they are shocked to find out that everyone is calling them a wanker.

An interesting comment on CiF from altrui May 18, 2006 12:04 (I can’t link directly to the comment):

One observation – those who respond to commenters tend not to be abused so much. There is a certain accountability required among political commentators, just as there is for politicians. Until now, opinion formers have never really had to justify themselves. I can think of many of the commentariat who write provocative and incendiary pieces which cause no end of trouble, yet they carry on stoking up argument and division, without censure or even a requirement to explain themselves.

Two issues here: Columnists are not used to engaging in conversation with their readers; and the readers have had years to build up contempt of specific writers and are now being given the opportunity to revile them in public. A lethal combination of arrogance and pent-up frustration – no wonder CiF has soured. Question is, can the Guardian columnists learn from their mistakes and pull it back from the brink?

A few suggestions. Don’t treat your audience as the enemy. If you’re going to talk down to your audience, they are going to shout back. And quite honestly, I would say to any media organisation that your best columnists and commentators don’t necessarily make the best bloggers. Most media organisations thinkg blogging is simply snarky columns. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

It’s a distributed conversation. Ms Ashley says: “As with child bullies, I wonder if these anonymous commenters and correspondents would really be quite so “brave” if they were having a face to face conversation.” You’re right, and I am in no way defending some of the toxic comments that you’re receiving. But step back. Read your column as if it were one side of a conversation and think how you would respond.

Many columnists seem to use the British public school debating trick that really is a form of elitist trash-talking. Belittle your opponents as much as possible. Most will lose their heads, and therefore the argument. But, again, step back. Would you ever address someone face-to-face in the patronising manner of your columns and honestly expect anything approaching a civil response? It seems that your debating strategy has worked all too well, and your audience is so angry that they are responding merely with profanity and vitriol.

Again, having said all of that, I’m glad that the Guardian aren’t letting growing pains stop them. They are choosing one of their best CiF commenters to become a CiF blogger. Bravo.