Reflections on the Hillsborough Verdict

The following article first appeared on the West Ham fans’ blog WestHamTilIDie. It generated a lot of agreement from football supporters from that era, but also some controversy (as you’ll see from the comments) – partly because some people misread it as a further attack on the victims. It wasn’t: it was simply stating that the culture of the times contributed, and that included Liverpool fans’ historic reputation. 


The Hillsborough verdict has had a greater impact on me than I suspected. It’s taken me back to that era: in which I was a keen West Ham fan (still am). Yet I now look back somewhat in wonder. Did we really put up with such poor treatment – herded like animals, treated as scum, offered the bare minimum in terms of comfort and provisions?

Before Lord Justice Taylor (in the Taylor Report to the Hillsborough tragedy) implored the game to go upmarket, the idea football was the “working man’s ballet” was to understate the hellish environment football fans endured in the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, thanks to Taylor, it’s been all-seater stadia and prawn sandwiches ever since – and I’m now happy to take my boys to matches in the near-certainty that it’s only shocking refereeing decisions that I have to worry about.

But I want to revisit that verdict – of “unlawful killing”. Don’t worry, I agree with it. I’d seen and even experienced enough instances of detestable and near-dangerous behaviour from the police to know that the verdict was justified. Watching the video of that day – with the police for 40 minutes lined up across the middle of the pitch, as if stopping a pitch invasion rather than trying to deal with the unfolding tragedy – makes me remember the attitude of the police to all football fans, not just the small minority intent on trouble. And the fact the timing of the deaths peaks right in that zone (3-3.20pm) – with the only medical help allowed a single St John’s Ambulance volunteer – is more than accidental. It’s more than misadventure. It is, indeed, unlawful.

Yet that’s not the entire story. The truth here is complex – very complex. It involves human beings in authority that had the wrong attitude and some deeply held prejudices. But, nonetheless, not a single one of them turned up to work that day intent on “unlawfully killing” people at a football match. In fact, they had the opposite objective – to keep everybody alive. I’ve not heard that stated once in the media melee since the verdict – I guess because the subsequent cover up (which started around 3.15pm that day) forfeits them any consideration. Though, again, the TV evidence is clear: showing individual policemen and women (presumably ignoring orders at this point) trying their best to help. To lift people out of the pen. To force the fence open. To carry people clear.

What has hurt the families, and many in Liverpool, most is the slur against the victims. That they were drunk, badly behaved, yobs. It’s a horrible lie – of course. But – but – but…..the truth is complex (and it’s here where I may get myself into trouble). Most certainly, the 96 – and anyone in the immediate pen behind Bruce Grobbelaar’s goal – were 100% innocent of any contributory factor: whether alcohol or violence related. To suggest otherwise is an obvious lie, although that’s what the police (using the media) tried to do. Shame on them. But what was happening outside – in Leppings Lane – is more contentious. Sure the verdict is, again, very clear: Question 7 asks “was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? “No”, is the answer.

This question is aimed at tackling the charge that the Leppings Lane gate was opened due to the crush of fans – drunk and ticketless according to the slur – forcing the gate to be opened (as David Duckenfield – police commander on the day – fatefully ordered). Sure there was a crush, it seems, but this was because ticketed fans arrived late (thanks to motorway congestion). It was not due to a mass of ticketless fans trying to force open the gate.

Deep breath – here we go. This is where I have a problem. One I feel I need to air, while absolutely accepting the verdicts – including for Question 7 – as correct.

My problem is that I went to matches in that era. Many matches (even standing in the Leppings Lane end for a West Ham quarter-final the year prior to the tragedy). I also went to more than a few matches involving Liverpool, the giant (for West Ham the near-unbeatable) am the team of the day. And around this time Liverpool fans had a reputation. Oddly, this wasn’t for hooliganism – unlike Chelsea, Manchester United, Leeds or, indeed, West Ham. Even post Heysel (in which Liverpool fans attacked Juventus fans with horrific consequences), Liverpool was not viewed as a “hoolie” club. There was no “firm” as such. They also had no particular notoriety for drunkenness (not above any other club, at least). But Liverpool fans were noted for something else: a peculiarity if you like. It was their habit of “steaming the gate” at away matches, and particular bigger (all-ticket) games. As kick-off approached, a large enough group would gather by the gate and, indeed, force their way in. It was “something Liverpool just did” – at least according to their reputation.

In fact, the 1990 Taylor Report into the tragedy called the behaviour of fans in Leppings Lane an “aggravating factor”. That has now, rightly, been dismissed. But that still doesn’t kill the historic reputation of Liverpool fans for this particularly dangerous rouse for gaining entry without a ticket. A reputation that, if known to me – a West Ham fan – was also surely known to the police. Nor does it change the fact that – what turned out to be a crush caused by other concerns – looked to the police exactly like that old Liverpool rouse: right up until 2.52pm when, indeed, the gate was opened, causing the surge that led to so many senseless and, yes, unlawful, deaths.

So while the behaviour of fans on the day did not contribute to the tragedy, behaviours from previous games most certainly did.

But if you think I’m blaming Liverpool fans here, you’re wrong. It was the culture. And we all acquiesced in the culture of hooliganism. I may not have been a card-carrying member of the Inter-City Firm (West Ham’s notorious hooligan mob) but I was secretly – and even not so secretly among friends – proud of them. I wanted West Ham to have the hardest firm – and loved Alan Clarke’s 1989 classic The Firm that immortalised them (though the later remake wasn’t so hot). We may have hated the way the police herded us (when I was 14 I was even assaulted by a policeman for doing absolutely nothing on a train) – but we still got a buzz from being the “invading marauders” in a midlands town or some “northern slum” (as we then thought – before I actually lived in the North while at Uni).

I’d have run a mile from any fight, but that didn’t stop the adrenalin and testosterone high of simply being with a large group of like-minded people in a hostile place. Of tribal chanting and the thrill of being with the gang. If you came from an Exurban Essex nowhereland, as I did, it was about as thrilling as it got.

But – then – that was football. The clubs knew it. The authorities knew it. And the fans knew it. It was also dangerous and unsustainable. And one day something was going to go very badly wrong. And to make that event, when it inevitably happened, the fault of one man: Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield is – despite his lies and failings – wrong. But that seems to be where we’re heading on this.


A review of Outside Edge

The following review of The Outside Edge appeared on the Bookself Blog by Jennifer Kaufman 

How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders by Robert Kelsey

9780857085757.pdfTrue story. A few years ago a friend and I were dining at a delightful local bistro. After we finished we noticed the bistro had set up several tables where people were reading palms, tarot cards and people’s auras. I decided, just for kicks, to have my aura read. What could it hurt?

To read my aura, I had to give the aura-reader a possession of mine so I handed over my amber ring…and waited. She said (and I’m paraphrasing), “It seems you’ve had a lot of difficulty in your life starting as a child. But it wasn’t your fault. You were at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I started to cry, and I don’t mean a few tears fell down my cheeks. I mean the full-on ugly cry, my face crinkled up, copious amount of tears fell out of my eyes, and my nose began to run. I was so embarrassed. Both my friend and the aura reader looked at me, both flummoxed and very concerned. The aura reader asked me if I wanted to go on, and I said, “Yes,” as I dried my tears.

The aura reader went on telling me I had difficulty in my childhood (which has continued into my adulthood) because I was always an outsider. No matter where I was, I just didn’t fit in.

So you can imagine my joy in finding Robert Kelsey’s book The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders.

A native of England, Kelsey is the author of several best-selling self-help books. He has worked in various industries including journalism and finance, but always as an outsider. In the very class-conscious Great Britain, Kelsey grew up in the wrong class. He never had the right educational credentials. And though he’s been very successful, he’s never felt like “one of the boys.” Yet, somehow he’s let his outside status work for him, not against him. And now he’s letting other outsiders, true rebels, misfits and just those of us who feel out of sorts how to find value in ourselves and ultimately our idea of success.

Though we live in a culture that claims to celebrate outsiders and other assorted misfits, the truth is those who are considered outsiders are merely pretenders (or as I would have called them in high school “posers”). These people “play” the role of the outsider, the rebel or misfit because they have the cushion of family money and/or connections. In other words, I’m looking in your direction Lena Dunham.
Most true outsiders don’t have a whole lot of family money and connections to fall back on. They often have unique ideas, opinions and concepts that are met with contempt not with open minds.

However, all is not lost for outsiders. For instance, look at how well the ultimate outsider, Senator Bernie Sanders, is doing against the ultimate insider, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Who would have thought this rumpled haired Democratic Socialist from Vermont, a Brooklyn-born secular Jew like Senator Sanders would be such a formidable opponent to someone like Hillary Clinton?

But so many outsiders don’t reach the success like Senator Sanders has.
As someone who has felt like an outsider my entire life, I can safely say that most outsiders feel completely alienated from the insider world of the “cool kids’ table.” They resent the “cool kids’ table” while at the same time have a longing to have a seat at the same table. And not only do they want a seat, they want to be successful. However, they don’t want to compromise their values, ethics, ideas or opinions to get a seat and shine.

Furthermore, many outsiders feel a great deal of torment and humiliation over their outsider status, as if they are so much less worthy than the insiders. And they often have a lack of proper self-esteem and don’t value all they can offer the world. And ultimately, the outsider status just makes so many of us resentful, depressed and just really pissed off at the unfairness of it all.

However, all is not lost for us genuine outsiders. We can achieve some amount of success and we can do it on our own terms, not on the terms of the insiders.
And this is why I found Kelsey’s Outside Edge such a knowledgeable and inspiring read.

In this book, Kelsey encourages outsiders to embrace our “outsiderness” to give us the leverage to succeed in life, both professionally and personally. We should embrace those qualities that we think make us less and see how they make us more. We should look at the insiders and say to ourselves, “Nope, I’m not like that at all, and it’s okay. In fact, it’s pretty damn fantastic.”

For instance, for the longest time I saw my introversion and more reserved nature as a burden instead of an asset. Let’s face it; in our world of D-list celebs, reality show cretins, and people who have nothing to say and say it all the time, I should embrace the following:

Instead of being known, I should promote my knowledge.
Instead of being a “brand,” note that I am a human being.
Instead of marketing myself, I should focus of providing a quality product or service.

Perhaps, all of these things will help this outsider looking in, with the tools to succeed but succeed on my own terms. Be the change I want to see in the workplace where show ponies may get the attention, but it is work horses like myself who get things done and with a unique insight and a creative spirit.

But first I need to do a little homework and soul searching. Kelsey’s book tells us to identify just what makes me feel like an outsider, being more accepting of my outsider status and look for meaning in everyday life, focus on being more creative and focus on some tangible skills and goals while still staying true to my morals and values. And most importantly avoid negativity as much as possible when it comes to relating to others and especially myself.

Granted a lot of this is easier said and done. But now that I have written it down, I now realize I can do this. Why? Because I’ve done this in the past.

Take my little place in the Internet, this very blog. I started this blog because I have a serious love of books and wanted to share this love with others by writing reviews. I also did this to heal some latent wounds I felt as a professional writer. Instead of using every social media to make myself well-known, I chose to expose my knowledge of books via The Book Self. I never tried to brand myself. And I’ve also done my best to provide quality content over a mad rush to market myself.

And in my own little way; I have been successful. Steadily I have gained followers and likes. I have worked with a PR professional to gain access to other books and have reviewed them. And many authors of the books I’ve reviewed have thanked me profusely for my reviews by leaving comments, sending me lovely emails, and posting links to my reviews via their websites, blogs and social media. Hmm, I think I’ve been pretty successful in that regard; and I’ve done it on my own terms.

The Outside Edge ends with Kelsey offering outsiders some wise counsel, including finding meaning, participate and serve your apprenticeship

I really enjoyed reading The Outside Edge, and I learned a lot from its pages. I just wish this book would have come out earlier like in my teens or twenties; it probably would have saved me a lot of angst and tear-stained pillows. And while reading it, I also mused that it might be easier to be an outsider as a man than as a woman. It seems there is more of a romanticism to the male outsider. He can be the lone wolf or the quirky genius. Women are still supposed to live fully on the inside or else face some serious repercussions. And no the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” or “Bad Girl With Issues” are not outsiders; they are tired pop culture tropes.

Still, I am very grateful for Robert Kelsey and his book The Outside Edge. I think it is great addition for anyone who has felt like an outsider

Seven steps to conquering your fear of failure

The following article appeared in the UAE’s Friday magazine – by Christine Fieldhouse

Don’t let fear hold you back – be brave and you can change your life, discovers Christine Fieldhouse. Here, she rounds up expert tips to boost your confidence

11 Mar 2016 | 12:00 am

Roxanne knew she had a problem and needed to tackle it. Urgently. For the past three years she had been smoking close to a pack of cigarettes a day – more when she was stressed at work – and had contracted a lingering cough. Her stamina too had plummeted. Where once she could easily climb the two flights of stairs to her office, now she was panting after the first.

That was not the only problem that worried the 33-year-old. Roxanne, who is single and an expat, longed to be more productive in the accounts department where she works because she’s keen to be promoted, and buy an apartment.

‘Of course, I’d like to sort my life out and achieve those things; I’ve tried in the past, but I’ve never been successful,’ she says. ‘I set out with really good intentions, but then I have my first cigarette or I mess up at work and waste a lot of time.

‘I never save enough money to get my own place. I suspect I’ll always have to rent. I end up feeling much worse about myself than before and then, stressed out, pick up yet another cigarette. It is a vicious cycle.

‘I feel a real failure, not just someone who’s getting things a bit wrong. Now I don’t even try doing anything new, because I know how horrible and let down I feel when I fail. And I do fail. Every single time.’

Experts say Roxanne isn’t alone. She’s suffering from fear of failure, or atychiphobia, which occurs when we allow fear to stop us from doing things that can move us forward to achieve our dreams, ambitions or goals.

In its mildest form, it can be limiting; at its worst it can stop us from realising our potential in careers, relationships, finances and hobbies.

‘If we’re afraid we might not get a particular job, we don’t even bother applying when vacancies come up, and if we think we might not finish a half-marathon, we ask what’s the point in entering one and training for something that will end up making us feel like a failure,’ says British consultant Simon Gilbert, who’s also the author of Think Smart, Live Rich!

But we’re not born with fear of failure. 
In his book, Gilbert writes that we’re born with three basic fears – the fear of being abandoned, fear of loud noises and fear of falling. ‘The fear of failure develops as we grow up,’ he says, ‘and it’s a feeling we get when we do something outside our image of ourselves.’ According to experts, fear is adaptive because it protects us. So, the fear of falling is necessary to keep us safe.

Many fears have roots in childhood, including the fear of failure. ‘This debilitating fear arises during childhood as we absorb information from our parents, teachers and other influences,’ says Dr Sheetal Kini, clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia community psychology clinic in Dubai. ‘At school, for instance, you are rewarded for answering questions first. Not being able to answer was seen as a failure.’

In time, what gets imprinted on the mind is that success is good and failure is bad.

‘Some of us learn that our parents and teachers were disappointed in us when we failed,’ she adds.

‘Also, we were made to believe that failure equals not being good enough, or smart enough, or hard-working enough. These negative meanings get ingrained in us and stay into adulthood.

‘We doubt ourselves, we experience fear, and we avoid taking a step towards our goal in the fear of eventual disappointment. But not taking a step makes us feel incompetent, which increases our self-doubt, which then perpetuates the fear.’

Dr Kini goes on to say that once an individual gets stuck in this vicious cycle, they begin to feel extreme fear of disappointment.

So how can we conquer our fear of failure so we tackle our resolutions with enthusiasm, not trepidation? Here are some tips from experts to help you.


1 Devise a secret blueprint

Gilbert says we all have a concept of who we are, and setbacks occur when we have a resolution that clashes with this image of ourselves.

‘If you work in sales and see yourself as a low earner, even if you decide you want to earn 10 times the amount next year, the idea will be rejected by your subconscious mind because you don’t see yourself as a high-earning salesperson,’ says Gilbert.

‘You need to change your mental blueprint in your subconscious until you see yourself as the type of person who can achieve those things. That means stripping out limiting beliefs like “I’ll always earn a low income”, and replacing them with powerful ones.’

Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You?, suggests we write our own constitution, stick it in our diaries and update each year. It will contain our values, and outline what we stand for.

‘Some people will discover they want to leave a legacy, create a career they’re proud of and honour their marriage vows. They may find that creativity is important to them, so they should look at writing or acting rather than a medical qualification.’


2 Visualise your goal

Kelsey suggests we choose a quiet place and set ourselves an hour to time travel to 10 years in the future. ‘Picture what you want in great detail – examine every aspect of your life,’ he says. ‘What does your place of work look like? Is it a book-lined study at home, a corner office in a corporate skyscraper, or a workshop or studio?

‘If you’re working for a big international company, and you want to start your own business, picture yourself at your desk, with staff working for you. It could be you want to live in a house on The Palm in Dubai. If so, picture yourself there. Then write out your dream in the present tense with as much detail as possible.’

Keep looking at this every single day and remind yourself that that is where you want to be X years time. Having a visual representation of your dream has a greater impact on your mind and can encourage you to realise it.


3 Develop milestones

Once you know where you want to be in future, break down your steps into smaller milestones, says Kelsey.

Start taking measurable steps towards achieving your goal. If, for instance, it is to set up a business, start working towards saving up a certain amount of money every month to fund your venture. If it is a shorter-term resolution – like losing 12kg in six months – start by breaking it down into smaller goals such as losing two kilos a month. This will be easier to achieve and you’ll be able to see changes every month when you step on the scales.

‘For example, if you’re an office cleaner and you want to become an actor, in the first year, your aim would be to get a job as a theatre cleaner. Then, in year two, join an amateur dramatics group. By year three, you might have a bigger role in a play.

‘Take it step by step until you get to where you want to be.

‘If you want a house on The Palm in Dubai, by year five you should be on the property ladder in some form.

‘Resolutions tend to be all or nothing, but when we break them down into smaller steps, all we need worry about is what we’re doing today and tomorrow.’


4 Undertake a SWOT exercise

Kelsey suggests we look at our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) in relation to our goals so we can formulate a strategy and some tactics to affect change.

‘If you need to move to a company that pays more money so you can get on the property ladder, a strength may be that you have great contacts in a firm renowned for paying good salaries,’ he explains. ‘Your weakness could be you have no experience working for international companies, so that could be an area to work on.

‘Look for opportunities. It may be the company you’d love to work for in Dubai is opening up an office in Abu Dhabi and looking for staff.

‘The threat could be a business that’s pulling out of the city and you will have to ask yourself if this is the right employer for you to target.’


5 Be efficient

By setting ourselves up for efficiency, we could make good time management a habit, says Kelsey.

‘Create an office or workshop that you’re proud of, and divide your week into hourly slots – let’s say, 8am-8pm – so you make good use of each hour.

‘Make sure every action moves you towards your goal.’


6 Celebrate your success

Dr Kini says many of us experience a thinking error known as filtering – which means we focus on the negative, rather than the positive – in a situation. Eventually negative focus makes us doubt ourselves even more and increases our fear that we will fail, the therapist adds.

‘Don’t become a victim of filtering. When you achieve small successes, acknowledge them. Celebrate and congratulate yourself for the parts of the goals you were able to accomplish.’


7 Find your unique gift

According to Robert Kelsey, we all have a unique gift, but most of us don’t bother looking for it. He says we often discover our unique gift in the simplest of circumstances, such as when we’re pottering around our apartment on a Saturday afternoon.

Once we know what our gift is, if we pursue it and make it part of a goal or a resolution, or use it in our work, we’ll see results faster. ‘It might be you spend your evenings playing chess and you’re amazing at it,’ says Kelsey. ‘This could be down to being great at spotting sequencing, and looking for a job with figures might be the answer.

‘Someone who spends hours watching news bulletins might be interested in journalism or politics, while watching soaps 
all evening could suggest a person is interested in narrative. ‘An interest in or knowledge about theatre could lead to a career as an agent, producer or a writer, or work in costumes or lighting.

‘It doesn’t have to be the obvious and often it isn’t.’


– See more at:

10 tips for avoiding poor decisions

The following article appeared on Changeboard on by Robert Kelsey

Oddly, making good decisions is relatively easy – it’s all about developing strong goals and basing judgements on what supports those goals.

Avoid making bad decisions, have a look these 10 decision-making errors, and how to avoid them.

1. Assuming extreme outcomes

This is the “all or nothing” thinking typical of those with poor judgement and often due to the fact our emotions – such as fear and greed – have too much influence on decision-making. Most outcomes are incremental: favourable ones facilitating a step forward, while unfavourable ones generate a step back. Yet we tend to assume decisions are either life-changing or ruinous, which inflames our emotions and ups the ante. By creating plans containing small steps rather than giant leaps our emotions should hold less sway when making decisions.

2. The self-fulfilling prophesy

Sociologist Robert K. Merton identified self-fulfilling prophesies as a “false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the originally false conception come true”. In decision-making this is related to “confirmation bias” – a “heuristic” or rule of thumb based on reinforcing our prejudices or inner expectations when making judgements. Again, it’s our emotions playing havoc – making long-term plans essential as a counterweight to any irrational bias.

3. Availability bias

Another decision-making heuristic that harms balanced judgement – this time by making us overly-concerned by what’s in front of us at the expense of what’s out of sight. A decision between two equal job candidates, for instance, usually favours the last interviewee as they had the most recent influence. Something more attention-grabbing also wins out over more thoughtful consideration and, yet again, something with an emotional impact is stronger than something rational. That said, the simple awareness of availability bias is often its best antidote.

4. False or flawed memories

Logical decision-making is flawed by mistakenly-assuming the circumstances match a previous – usually negative – experience. Sure, there are lessons to be learnt from our mistakes but each decision has a unique context, making concerns about repetition more an emotional barrier than a warning to be heeded. Of course, this can equally work the other way – assuming something will succeed simply because it worked previously. Yet the circumstances are unique, all of which goes to prove just how difficult good judgement can be.

5. Restricting the outcome

Many bad judgements come down to misunderstanding the full range of available options. This is a classic mistake of the young, as they too-often frame questions into “whether or not” decisions. Should they do this college course, or not; go to this party, or not. Yet there is always more than one available choice. Creating a list of nine possible college courses – with the tenth choice a gap-year in Botswana, say – helps frame decisions as positive options. That said, beware “sham options”, falsely offered to give the appearance of width.

6. Making decisions too quickly

“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” wrote philosopher Viktor Frankl. In that space is our power to choose our response.” In other words, given time, we can choose our best reaction. Too often, we behave reactively when faced with a judgement or dilemma: coming to knee-jerk decisions that are, inevitably, overly-focused on our emotions.

7. Putting off decisions

Yet the opposite is also true. Spending too long musing over decisions smacks of procrastination. Here, we may fear the outcome from execution or even from having to favour one option over another. Stuck, we condemn ourselves to a creeping paralysis in which we become incapable of judgement. The answer – develop a process for decision making, evaluating it from various angles (most importantly our goals). And if that doesn’t work, examine why we’re stalling.

8. Group-think.

Groups can make strong decisions – bringing different perspectives and removing some of those heuristics. Yet groups have their own traps, the most likely of which is the desire to avoid conflict. This results in consensus-seeking (often lowest common-denominator) decisions. The other is the perceived need to generate “fair” solutions. An alternative is a negotiated decision – basically horse-trading until all sides can live with the choice.

9. Escalating sunk costs

Yet another emotional concern: if we’ve previously invested time/money/passion into something, we’re more willing to invest more of the same, even once we realise it’s failing to produce the desired results. Too often small failures are turned into major disasters by this “escalation of commitment” – what’s known as “throwing good money [or anything else] after bad”. Yet anything that’s been previously spent is a “sunk cost”, which is a poor justification for further spending.

10. Superstition

And finally there’s the negative influence on rational decision-making that many, including myself, deny. Even if we avoid the extremes of, say, astrology in decision-making (the indulgence of a surprising number of world leaders) we can still find ourselves wondering whether a particular shirt is lucky or whether “fate” plays a hand in our decisions. It doesn’t, of course, but we’re frail human-beings trying to navigate complex judgements with limited knowledge and, ultimately, unknowable consequences. No wonder we’re tempted to recruit the Ouija board or tarot cards or even just our lucky socks.

Robert  Kelsey

By Robert Kelsey

Robert is an author, founder and CEO of a London PR agency, and co-founder and deputy chairman of the Centre for Entrepreneurs.

10 tips to manage your time more effectively

by Robert Kelsey

Is time used wisely the secret to success? It is crucial that you use your time wisely and effectively, but how can you do this?

Managing our time is crucial for getting things done. And it’s wasting time that – along with poor goal-setting – most often results in slow progress towards achieving our potential.

Yet time management is far from easy. “We cannot manage time,” writes Alec Mackenzie in The Time Trap. “We can only manage ourselves in relation to time.”

So the fault for time wasting lies squarely with us, the time waster. But what can be done?

1) Get a plan

Top among the reasons why people procrastinate is their lack of purpose: they’re simply not motivated. So set some long-term goals, with some milestones and some immediate, short term, actions. Only then will the need for time management become truly apparent.

2) Focus on your ideal day

Mackenzie implores us to understand our ‘personal energy cycle’ and use that as our guide for creating the ‘ideal day’, which means planning blocks of time moulded to our working preferences. For instance, I write first thing, am still creative until lunchtime, and tend to be more sociable in the afternoon. Morning meetings, therefore, irritate: as well as feel like a waste of creative energy.

3) Action of the day

Winston Churchill wrote ‘Action of the Day’ at the top of each diary page to ensure that something significant was achieved that day. It was a daily goal that, over time, added up to significant progress. It doesn’t have to be major, but it should be a step forward.

4) Get a diary

Yes, Churchill kept a diary. He understood that a diary is the single most powerful time-management tool available – allowing you to plot the day’s needs and also record your progress (and frustrations) towards achieving your goals. Diaries also help unravel your thinking – saving you from wasting time asking colleagues for (usually the wrong) advice.

5) Timetable your week

While you’re at it, why not timetable your whole week? If you understand all your roles – as a parent, child and friend, as well as a productive adult pursuing your goals – then a seven-day, 16-hour, timetable is entirely feasible. Your life then becomes a series of projects executed during allotted blocks of hours, with “relaxation” included as a project.

6) Focus on the hour

And let’s not forget the varying concentration span of a single hour. One trick – invented by Francesco Carillo – is the Pomodoro Technique, after those ubiquitous tomato-shaped timers found in Italian kitchens. Set it for 20 minutes, work like crazy – and when the alarm goes off have a 10-minute break (remembering to reset the alarm for the next session). Every hour offers 40-minutes of intense work, as well as 20 minutes distraction time.

7) Understand and deal with interruptions.

Of course, our time is not always our own. But a strong start here is to calculate what is and isn’t an interruption. Stephen Covey (writer of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) offers a time management matrix in which we divide everything we do into activities that are urgent/not urgent and/or important/not important. This results in four boxes for all our actions – with those labelled urgent but not important usually interruptions. Once identified, they can be controlled.

8) Stop the office terrorists

These days most interruptions come via email or the phone. So control both. Only look at emails at allotted points in the day: perhaps even avoiding until lunchtime, or at least until 10am. As for the phone – never answer it. Pick up the messages during a break and respond as/when needed. Literally – turn off your devices – or have your day controlled by others while achieving little.

9) Don’t waste travel time

Beyond office interruptions, travel is the next biggest time waster. Yet it can be an excellent way of using your time constructively. Car commuting is the greatest waste (though even here audio books can turn journeys into tutorials), while train/bus or aeroplane travel is perfect for studying/research. And if you cycle or walk? Well, you’re ticking-off the need for daily exercise.

10) Limit the socialising

Lastly – and one particularly for the young – is the recognition that your time is valuable, so wasting it on partying too hard has an enormously detrimental impact on your progress. Those nursing hangovers from heavy evenings and weekends are losing out to those staying fit and alert in order to achieve things. After all, it’s no coincidence that the sporty types are usually the career winners too.

Robert  Kelsey

By Robert Kelsey

Robert is an author, founder and CEO of a London PR agency, and co-founder and deputy chairman of the Centre for Entrepreneurs.

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