How to actually get stuff done (or the magic of lists)

We have touched on this before. For some of us starting something is the hardest thing. For most of us, the problem is getting it finished. Either way, there is a very simple tool which will keep you moving forward – from beginning to end. Yes, it is the humble To Do List. However managing one isn’t always so simple.


To Do Lists get a bad name because they seem so mundane and downright basic. Surely, changing the world can’t depend on a To Do List? Actually, it could if you manage your list right. It may be the right tool you need to get you to finish what you started. The secret with lists is to enjoy that moment when you tick off things you have done – and giving yourself as many chances to do it as possible. Each of those tasks is a step towards your goal; the more ticks, the closer you’re getting towards your great ambition. Here are our five tips for getting the best out of the most cost effective time-management tool you’ll ever need.

  1. To Do Lists are for Tasks (not Goals or Projects). A Task is a single, specific thing that has to be done. It should not depend on anything else other than one person completing it. We run into problems when beginning a task involves others or has complex implications. Those task never get crossed off the list because they are either Projects (lots of tasks working together to achieve something) or a Goal (a bigger ambition that need to be broken up into separate Projects and Tasks).
  2. Be SMART with Tasks. If you haven’t heard of the SMART acronym before, here we go… keep your Tasks specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. For example, use names of people or specific departments, rather than a more generic ‘Call Council about grants’. Who are you calling? What’s the name of the department? What kind of grants are you asking about? If any of these are unknowns, add an extra Task to your To Do List: ‘Find out who is responsible for Grants at Greenwich Council’. I might help if you imagine you may have to leave your list for someone else to do – would they have enough information to be able to complete it?
  3. A Day Is Enough. To manage an effective To Do List, nothing on it should take more than a day to complete. That’s a figure that works for me because I look at my To Do List at the end of each day. I cross things off and priorities the remaining Task for the following day. It give me the feeling of achievement by having done something today. Tasks like ‘Ask Brian to pick up the bikes from Halfords’ or ‘Recce Wiston Hall’ are doable in a day. However, ‘Edinburgh weekend’ or ‘Paint the house’ might not get completed within 24 hours.
  4. Beware of your expectations. Often we can’t cross things off the list because we’ve written them with expected outcomes which don’t happen the way we would like them to. For example, be careful about using terms such as ‘Agree timescales’ and ‘Confirm layout’ when writing your To Do List. Do you really mean “I expect them to agree with my timescales” or “Confirm my layout”? Although the Task would be complete, if it hasn’t gone your way, you won’t enjoy that feeling of ticking that one off your list. You might also be tempted to keep working on it until you get your way. Stick with very clear, impartial tasks and you’ll keep moving forward.
  5. Start with the ones you don’t like. There will be Tasks we don’t really want to do – usually admin, laundry and working out. Do those Tasks first. Get them out of the way so you can have a more fluid day. If you find it difficult to go to the gym, do it first thing in the morning, rather than putting it off again after a ‘hectic’ day. Prepare for it the night before if you have to. Get your trainers out and sweat pants ready before you go to bed so you have no excuse in the morning.

It is remarkable how using a simple list can help improve your productivity. It really isn’t rocket science. If you are struggling with getting something done, give it a try. Put it on a To Do List. Make it visible on a wall, or handy on your phone. If after two days you haven’t completed it, consider whether it’s more than just one Task and break it up. If after a week you haven’t completed it, ask yourself if you really want it done or whether someone could do it for you instead.


We set out to write a book in one year. Here’s where we’ve got to so far and a few new things to consider. Whether it’s a book that’s already been started or just some scraps of possible storylines; let’s finish it together. Every month we want to get closer to that hardback novel, instruction manual or self-help e-book. Whatever it is you want to write, that someday is now.



So we want to write a book. We’ve had the idea burning passionately inside us for a long time. Not anymore! We’re doing it and we have to start with making a commitment to a working title. It’s only a working title because if you are not going to self-publish there may be many conversations about titles down the line which I won’t bore you with now.

Begin with one sentence that says in what the book is about or what the book will help the reader do. For example:

The book you should read if you are thinking of leaving your job

How to choose the best pair of school shoes

Everything you need to know about relocating to a different country

The story of six men who fell in love with the same woman for different reasons

Once you’ve struggled with getting the idea for your book into one line (and it is a struggle), here’s the hard part. Sum it up in 5 words or less. This is your title. That could be related to the character in the book i.e. The Diary of Anne Frank or Fifty Shades of Grey. It could be a play on words or a well known saying i.e. The War of Art or Get Rich from Tie-Dying. Then try it out. Ask friends or your social networks what the title alone says to them. Take in their feedback and decide whether you want to amend the title or use their suggestions to beef up your summing up sentence. Then put the title and the summing up sentence (sometimes referred to as the strapline or tagline) together and admire your book taking shape.

So for example:

Rewind. Reset. Restart. – The less scary way to change your career.

Juiced! – Robin was always made to feel like a lemon; now he’s getting sour.

12 Avoidable Relocating Mistakes – How not to waste your money and return home after a year.

Here are a few more fun ideas based on film titles. It should help you get your head around how titles and straplines work together.

TIP: Whenever you receive negative feedback, ask how it can be improved. Find out why they said ‘no’ or ‘it isn’t good enough’. Ask what could make it better. It’s only an opinion after all.


02 RoadMap The hardest part of writing a book is not starting it; it’s completing it. This is because somewhere on route, from the first to the last page, we get a little lost. What begins as an exciting burst of creative energy fizzles into a dull fraction of your incomplete work. What happened?

It works like this: If I plan to get to Manchester from London, I don’t simply start driving until I run out of steam. It’s good to have a destination and key milestones on route. I know I’ll need to go via either the M40 or the M1. Then when I get to Birmingham, I consider, do I take the M6 or the M6 Toll road?

With our 13 Point Book Plan, you stand a better chance of reaching those milestones on route to your completed book. You’ll need a pen and pad for this (or computer, however our preference is actually writing it out). Here goes:

The Beginning.

Write the numbers 1 to 13 along the left hand side of a piece of paper. These will be the numbers for thirteen sentences you’re about to create, so give yourself plenty of space.

Now write a sentence about how you want your book to start next to number 1. The characters, location, expertise or knowledge that you want the reader to know in the beginning. If you’re writing a novel about a person on a self-discovery journey, where will they start? What is their current emotional state? If it’s a business manual think about what level of knowledge you expect from your typical reader? If you’re teaching a new method, what should they already know: do they have a degree in Management, have they worked in a business or know nothing at all? Write it as a single sentence, e.g. The reader has never written a business plan or Marcel is about to have his life changed by the mysterious girl on the bus.

The End. How will the book end? What’s the last thing you want to communicate before your reader closes the last page? Imagine it as the spoiler. What is the big revelation or the nugget of wisdom and experience that you want to share in your book? Try to communicate that as one sentence. Write this next to number 13. For example: ‘And they lived together in Barbados for the rest of their lives’ or ‘So now you know everything you need to make vegan burgers’.

Meet Me Halfway. Consider the middle point between the beginning and the end. Halfway through the book, what do you want the reader to know? Write that sentence next to number 6. For example By this stage of the book… we will know the heroine’s secret or we should understand the difference between Dating and Courting or I have introduced my mediation technique. Remember it’s about being halfway through the physical pages of the book, not necessarily of your story. This would be the 50 page mark if your story book is 100 pages long. You don’t need to count pages, just have a sense of what you want to have written about when halfway through.

Half the Halves. Do the same for the points midway between the beginning and the middle (i.e. number 4) and halfway between the middle and the end (i.e. number 10). Again write a ‘By this stage of the book…’ sentence about what you want to be saying a quarter and three-quarters into your masterpiece.

Repeat and Repeat. You will have two empty numbers between each of the major milestones of your book. Think of these as two steps to get from one stage to the other. Write in here two important moments or bits of information which will follow each other to get from the beginning to the quarter mark, then quarter to the halfway mark… and so on. You will find that this is where a lot of your thinking, rethinking, changing, rewriting etc. happens. That’s fine. All your thoughts here are helping you really define your story. When you come to write the book itself, you will find that you’ve already had those random thoughts and are less likely to go off track.

Write The Book. Yes, that’s your 13 Point Book Plan complete. If you’ve put all your energies into getting this part right, you will find the rest of the writing process of writing feels smoother than previous attempts. It also means if at any point you get bored of writing about a particular part of your story, you can easily switch to another point without losing your thread.

The difference now is that you have a destination, a route and a map. When you get lost, you simply look back at your map and get yourself back on track. I hope this has helped you make progress.

TIP: It’s worth spending time honing your map. It might even take a few attempts to feel comfortable with it. Go with it. Even if you have already started writing, stop and work out where you’re going with it. It will be worthwhile in the long run.


03 time-on-handsSet time aside time to write. Daily is better than weekly. Weekly is better than monthly. Use your 15 minute train ride to type bullet points into your phone or dictate your thoughts from the shower while you get dressed. You will find it so much better if you are trying to catch up with yourself at a later stage. Many people try to do it at the weekend.

I would recommend giving yourself something to work with when you finally sit down to gather your thoughts. The biggest lesson here is doing something is better than doing nothing. One of our #IAmWritingTheBook authors sees his children every other weekend. When they’re not with him, he copies all his mobile phone notes into a document on the Saturday morning. Then on Sunday evening, he gets down to crafting his story so far.

The more routine you can make your writing, the more likely you’ll succeed in completing it. It’s a lot like making time to go to the gym. There’s no point in hoping just one session will give you the perfect, toned body you want. I have time set aside in my diary. My two sessions of one hour each are on Monday and Thursday night. I made myself four playlists of instrumentals: Jazz (currently playing Dorothy Ashby’s ‘Come Live With Me’), Classical Piano, 70s Funky Soundtracks and Weird Ambient Trip Hop. I find it helps me shut out the world and focus on what I’m writing. I did have a Slow Jams playlist too but my mind began to wonder so I deleted it :).

Try not to make writing feel like a chore. Treat is as a reward. A friend who also writes gave me a great tip. Every fortnight, as part of her regular shopping, she buys a bottle of that ‘bubbly’ she likes. Then when her son has gone to bed and she’s got some time to herself, she pours herself a glass and let’s her creative juices flow into the iPad. When the glass is empty, she stops. I’m not recommending writing while drunk but do whatever works for you. The principle is whatever helps you to continue writing is better than not writing at all.

TIP: Put a regular writing appointment in your diary away from where you are most comfortable. Skip the rush hour by writing in a coffee shop before you head home. If you have to get home, don’t write in bed or bedroom unless you have a desk. Make both a time and space where you’re not distract-able.


04 PicturesWhether or not you’re writing a book with has pictures in it, it’s good to start thinking of the imagery that will go with your finished masterpiece. If your book will have illustrations as part of the story, think about the style of pictures you would like. A Google Search for ‘illustrators’ or ‘photographers’ is a great place to start. Pick a few you like and create a folder of them – preferably one you can take around with you. 

Visual references are a great way to stay stimulated as you’ll literally be able to picture what the final book could look like. It’s also helpful to pick a couple of illustration styles which you really don’t like. Just for reference. Once you understand what it is about those pictures you’re not a fan off, it will help shape your story.

If you’re not writing a children’s book or something with a lot of pictures, you might still find it useful to spend a couple of your writing sessions searching for images and fonts that would look good on your book cover. Perhaps a picture of your lead character or a photo the house where some of the story is centred. It could be a particular location (beach, mountain range, dirt road, etc). It could even be a colour scheme – anything that makes the story feel more real for you.

TIP: Put together a collection of pictures rather than just one. Putting faces to the characters (even Hollywood actors).


Now you have a clear idea of what your book is  about – how the story or structure pans out and what kind of imagery you want people to associate with it, you are ready to tell others about it. This works three ways in your favour:

You being excited and talking about your book will make you feel good about actually doing it. It raises an encouraging expectation about getting it done.

Talking to others (out loud rather than in your head) will help you sharpen what goes in the book. They will ask you about characters and possible outcomes which you may not have considered. They will recommend similar authors who write on your subject, too. All great news for you. You’ve got allies. People knowing about the book will help you feel like you’re not doing it alone.

05 The WomenOn Facebook there are many groups for writers; professional and novice. Join a few just to see what they are talking about. Ask questions and hear what they say about your ideas.  One of the things I hear often is ‘What if they steal my idea?’  Good question. Well, yes they could. However they would also need to complete their book before yours and prove that they had the idea before you. But wait?!! You’ve been writing your thoughts down for months. You’ve got the different voice notes on your mobile which prove you’ve been working on it for a while. That’s why getting your title, strapline, story map, etc. is important. You’ve already got the paper trail to protect you. PLUS you have a group full of witnesses that you’ve been talking to about YOUR book before they did. Surely an idea that no-one has heard of is easier to steal then one that everyone is aware of.

As well as writing groups, online and physical ones, have someone who is a confidant or is accountable for you personally that you can talk to. A supportive spouse or lover is good, however you can still find allies if you’re single. A good friend, a member of your family or someone you have a good rapport with. They are essential to get you to the finish line.

TIP: You may prefer to chose someone who doesn’t know you personally. A colleague from work or a mentor from a writing group may be more objective about some of the things you want to write about.


06 Jenn writes by lakeWith the best will in the world, our daily or weekly routines can get us regularly building on our story. However in order to complete it, we do need a big chunk of set-aside time. Some writers suggest even doing this for each chapter.

Plan a weekend free of distraction to get it done. Note: that’s free from distractions rather than free time. This is not free time. It’s dedicated, on-purpose time. Imagine your book is going to make you millions of £££ in sales and other spin-off revenues. This time you are setting aside is an investment in getting those millions. It might be best for you to take yourself off to a bed & breakfast somewhere for a few days with your pen, pad, laptop, typewriter… whatever you need to get the book finished. If money is that much of a barrier, ask a friend or member of your family to stay with them so you’re away from your day to day interruptions. I often visit my sister in Manchester and switch my phone off for the weekend just to get things completed.

This step is about getting it finished. Many books are begun, fewer are completed. The more you give yourself the time and space to do so, the more likely you are to actually getting published.

TIP: Give yourself a realistic deadline. Then book something (hotel, B&B, etc.) and don’t change it. Reward yourself for achieving it too. Tag on a pedicure or lovely meal once you’ve done it.


You spend months creating your masterpiece and now it’s time to share it with the world. Publishing in the simplest terms means getting your book out of your hands and into other people’s – whether or not they pay for it. Think of it in the same way as a musician releases a CD of their music. It’s the same for writers. You can decide to do it yourself or sign with a record company. With books, you can self-publish or go with a publisher who already puts out other people’s books.

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired There are pros and cons for both, so it’s worth spending time finding out what will work for you. Again, here it is worth investing a little time and money to educate yourself as the implications can be huge – especially if you have and extremely successful book. However this is also essential if your small shipment of books ends up not breaking even because you’re tied up with costs and deductions you weren’t expecting.

A published book can be anything from a downloadable PDF from your website to a limited edition hardback, exclusively available in a leading high street store. Not forgetting the growing popularity of Kindle and other e-books.

As the purpose of this is getting you to write (publishing is your choice), we won’t spend too much tim going into the benefits or limitations of one or other route. Nor will we recommend one over another. You don’t have decide which you want to do yet.

Winsome Duncan is an author who has recently self-published and is running a workshop called ‘How To Self Publish A Book’. It is based on real experience of doing what you may want to do and is a great opportunity to get some of your questions answered. It would also be a chance to connect with other writers in the same place as you – wanting to write and looking to network with others. Remember, meeting other writers is always a good way to keep the spark going.

At the end of the day, we want you to achieve what you have your heart set on. If that’s writing a book, let’s go for it. The choices are yours. The effort is yours. You can do everything above with all your heart or do nothing. Just imagine how you would feel when you hold the first copy of your completed book in your hand. That’s how we want you to feel too.

The Caveat of Maybe

Maybe IG

Somewhere between a definite Yes or No is the caveat of Maybe. Before we debate why or whether it is an unsatisfactory place holder, let’s insert Maybe in a number of everyday responses.

“Shall we have a picnic today?”


“Is buying this iPhone a good idea?”


“Do they own half my business if I sign this contract?”


“Will you marry me?”

Maybe can mean ‘it’s possible’ or ‘it depends’. The word itself isn’t the problem. It gives us time and space to explore the other options, implications or actions. So Maybe is handy when we need more time.

However, use it wisely. It can also come across as indecisive or not committed; or more dangerous… fobbing off. You could be saying ‘I’m actually not interested at all. I just want to look like I am’.

Maybe itself is not a bad place to be if you know why you’re there. Do you need additional information? Are you unprepared? Would other things you haven’t taken into account now become urgent? Are there other options you still want to explore?

There is an old reggae song which goes “Let your yeah be yeah…”. Maybes hold you back from doing that. It can make us look shifty as the lyrics go on to explain “Because, I’m on my guard and I’m watching you from head to toe”.

To maybe or not to maybe… that is the question.


1. Let your No be no. If your Maybe is only holding off inevitable bad news (i.e. you already know it’s a No but you are trying to be ‘nice’)… Don’t. We may not want to rock the boat, but our indecision affects how other people get on. It’s the Abilene Paradox (which you can look up in your own time). As soon as we can, turn that Maybe into a No by saying so. Deal with it and move on. We are only wasting time and energy. And the longer that limbo lasts, the more bitter it feels. Let it go, let it gooooo 🙂

2. Be optimistic about Yes. Think of Yes and No as a ladder – with Yes at the top and No at the bottom. Now you’ve got rid of the definite No, work your way up step-by-step towards a Yes. This may involve a lot of soul searching and challenging some deeply held perceptions. It might mean addressing other situations, contracts or conversations which could impact this one (or vice versa). Working towards Yes could still mean we get stuck at a No. However we’ll have a greater understanding of why this No is a definite no.

3. Share the Maybes. Whether our decision is about ourselves or involves someone else, sharing the possible outcomes can really help give clarity. We tend to be surrounded with people like ourselves so be thorough when exploring your Maybe. Speak to others who aren’t in the same boat. Chat with a freelancer about being self employed rather than your office mates. Network with successful investors rather than others managing multiple overdrafts. Seek advice from people other than your girlfriends – they already share your point of view.

What makes us appear confident is being direct and decisive. More yes and no; fewer maybes.

Life Happens!

I won’t be beaten by life and neither will you… Together, we will face difficult situations with courage and always find a solution.

A belated Happy and Hopeful New Year.

The last time I wrote here, the plan was to share a summary of the journey to date for all who were interested in writing a book in a year #IWillWriteTheBook. Excited and optimistic, I looked forward to that Thursday evening slot in my diary dedicated to blogging and writing. It never came. Life showed up instead.

Just a day before my sacred Thursday, I received a phone call from my mother saying not to worry but my father had been taken to hospital. And with that, any sort of plan went out of the window. CRASH! Life had taken over. Eight weeks later he’s still here (I’m actually writing this sitting in the hospital cafe).

IG Empty Bed

This is what Life does all the time. We make plans. We hope to get them done. Then Life gives us something else to focus on and it’s “bye-bye plans”.

But this IS life. It’s unpredictable. It’s uncertain and just when you manage to get everything in balance – along it comes and tips it over. We pick up the pieces, regroup and set about getting back to ‘normal’.  I won’t be beaten by life and neither will you.

So here’s my notice to Life.

Dear Life.

Thank you for the many interesting ways you try to influence our plans. This coming year, a few of us are getting together to work on how to stay balanced. With our blogs and events, we’ll be looking at ways to keep family, friends, faith and finances all working out the way we want them. We’re not going to ignore you. No, in fact, we’re going to use what you’ve already shown us about who you are to become better at handling what you throw at us. 2015 is going be a year where we learn to balance.

Together, we will face difficult situations with courage and always find a solution.

Thank you and good night.

PS. Watch this space. The #IWillWriteTheBook summary is coming soon.

It’s not a light bulb that appears… it’s a chandelier!

Chandelier MARLO

I love watching battle rap videos to see creativity at work. Watching how they respond to things being chucked at them live. I have a blog planned on ‘What Battle Rap taught me’ coming in 2015. Until then, here’s a cute quote that made me want to change the tagline for Ideas Genius. Video on our Facebook page.

“When we have ideas, it’s not a light bulb that appears… it’s a chandelier”


FREE LUNCH #4 | The Art of Networking

Thanks to @RachelYvonne podcast, here’s The Art of Networking again.

Ideas Genius

Networking Image

Networking is important. Here’s why and how to do it to help your business or brand become more successful. Firstly though, why network at all?

  1. Grows your clients, customers, consumers or congregation. We become more successful by selling or sharing what we do with more people. Networking gives you a bigger pond from which to fish.
  2. Grows your suppliers, supporters, sponsors or specialists. We maintain success by making the best use of our resources. Others have access, expertise or finances that will make that task easier.

So how do I network? Networking isn’t a beauty pageant. You’re not simply showing off how pretty your company or idea is. Neither is it about collecting as many business cards as you can. It’s about the contacts on those cards and how they can help you grow.  Here’s what to do.

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Would You Jump? Would You Heck!

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Belief is everything.

If you didn’t believe you could make it safely across an eight foot ravine, would you jump? Sure you could practice… but HOW would you practice? You could perfect the run-up. Heck, you could become the best running-upper in the land. You could analysis the ravine with forensic detail. You would know so much them you could write books on ravines. You’d even be able to hypothesise about perfect, flawless landings. BUT would we ACTUALLY jump? Would we heck!

It’s something we all come up against… FEAR. The complete opposite of faith. Faith is when you believe something is possible. Which must make fear the belief that something isn’t possible. Yes, fear is a belief. It’s not just a thought about what might go wrong. It’s a significant difference. Fear is something you actually invest in.

Belief is everything. If you believe you can make a difference, you will try. In the past month, I’ve seen a number of problems… no, let’s call them opportunities to do something different. There were a couple of surveys on diversity and identity doing the rounds, multiple campaigns regarding Ebola relief efforts, Children in Need’s television marathon and shocking examples of police injustice. Watching my own response to each campaign has been an eye opener. Where I felt (believed) I could make a difference, I engaged fully. I sent that text, filled out a forms, visited the websites, sent money. Whatever the required action was, I got involved – but only if a) I believed in the cause and b) I believed I could make a difference. And then there were causes I felt were a good idea BUT that was as far as it went. No further action. Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

See, believing is everything. When your belief is stronger than your fear… or your apathy… or your indecision, you do something. And DOING is what makes things happen.