Increase Productivity and Kill Your Dead Time

Waiting for a planeHow much dead time is there in your life? Do you wish you had some great ways to utilise it?

This blog is part of my productivity philosophy which aims to help you to get more important stuff done in the time you have.

So what is dead time? There are probably loads of definitions, but the one I use is “time where you are constrained in a way that means you cannot perform value-adding activities. Waiting for a train (or a girlfriend) is a good example.

So what can you do about dead time?

Leverage your smart phone

I got a iPhone 4 in 2010, and was blown away by the possibilities. Phone, text, email, word processor, spreadsheet, online banking – it’s all on there.

So if I’m sitting at a bus stop I fire up an app and start doing something useful. Good examples of value-add activities are:

  • Check emails and clean up inbox
  • Quick review of the next few days on my calendar
  • Call or text someone
  • Write a blog post

Of course there are many more, but hopefully this gives you some inspiration.

I’m writing this blog post on a 6 hour journey across France; luckily my parents-in-law have kindly offered to drive the whole way!

Brainstorm a project

You’ve probably got some sort of project that needs a bit of attention, from planning a party, to a big piece of work for the office, so why don’t you get ahead by doing a brainstorm?

The main thing is that you need to capture your thinking – I like to carry a notepad around with me wherever I go. Moleskin make a great notebook- link here to buy one from Amazon. However you could also use your smartphone as before – the notes app is great, but even better is Evernote…

Learn stuff

Are you preparing for an exam? Are you trying to remember the names of all your class at school? Do you want to show management that you are in touch with business performance by learning some KPIs from the latest annual statement? There are so many things that need to be learned!

This tip is one that needs a bit of prep; exam revision cards containing the things you want to learn are a must if you’ve got an exam coming up.


You know what? Why don’t you use your deadtime to switch off for once? We’re all so busy rushing around; sometimes it’s great to just let yourself have some well earned relaxation.


Dead time is only a problem if you let it be. With your smartphone at your fingertips and a plan to use your deadtime wisely you’ll find your frustration with queuing and waiting drastically reducing!
Image by Angelo DeSantis from Flickr

Stop using your mouse! Keyboard shortcuts to make your life more productive!

Do you ever find yourself slowly scrolling to the bottom of a page using the wheel on your mouse and wonder if there’s a faster way of doing it? How about clicking through several screens one by one until the option you’re looking for comes up? You need to stop clickety clicking and start tappedy tapping! This post is part of my productivity philosophy and will help you replace your long-winded mouse actions with super-fast keyboard shortcuts.

Once you’ve read the post, why not reshare this post, and let me know what your favourite keyboard shortcuts are…

Why over-reliance on your mouse slows you down

I proudly watched the British Cycling team led by Sir Chris Hoy achieve fantastic results at the last two Olympics – driven by their attention to detail. This is described by their mentor Dave Brailsford as the “aggregation of marginal gains”. In other words the team look to improve every aspect of their performance by 1%, from the food they eat to the specific exercises and clothes they wear when competing.

Think about this in relation to using a computer. What if everything you did took 1% longer? This is Dave’s theory in reverse. Compare the two options you have to save a document:

  • Move your mouse to the file menu, click on ‘file’, move the mouse down to the ‘save’ option and click it
  • Press Control and S at the same time

Which is faster? Clearly this example shows that you can save tiny amounts of time when performing each task on your computer – the aggregation of marginal gains in action! This is a great example of applying the theories of elite athletes to your own life – how exciting!

If you’re a numbers person like me, this following calculation may help persuade you to ditch the mouse.

Assume one second is saved each time you replace your mouse action with a keyboard command. If you perform 100 mouse movements in a day, you saved almost 2 minutes. If you perform 1,000 mouse movements in a day you can save closer to a quarter of an hour per day

So now you can start to think about how you want to spend that 15 minutes. Perhaps you’ll finish your weekly report a little sooner, and give yourself a bit more time to proof read it? Perhaps you might find a way to go home on time this week? Whatever your priorities are, you will start to give yourself more time to focus on them (and you know I’m obsessed with your priorities right?)

Using keyboard shortcuts

We all know the classic keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, save etc etc; these are ubiquitous across many programs and are often accessed by pressing control or the apple key and a letter – for example save is accessed by pressing control/apple and S.

Most programs out there (for example Excel – my fave) have a long list of keyboard shortcuts for the most common tasks. The web is full of such lists, search for “excel keyboard shortcuts” and you’ll see how many there are (almost 2 million when I searched just now in July 2013). My advice to you is to download and print some of these out, and start using them.

The way to get really slick using keyboard shortcuts is to start using them. It’s like learning to drive a car – you start off being ‘consciously incompetent’ (i.e. you know you’re doing it but you’re rubbish at it), but slowly you move to ‘unconscious competence’ (you don’t know you’re doing it, and it’s just happening) – see here for my article on the learning cycle.

This process takes a couple of months, but slowly the keyboard commands will become part of your workflow. I don’t even look at the keyboard any more – when my brain tells me to save, my fingers seek out control and S and the action just happens instantly.

What the mouse is good at

Don’t get me wrong – the mouse is an amazing invention that has helped us move computing forward to where it is today. I thought it only fair that I share a couple of examples where you can use the mouse to great effect.

  1. Zooming in and out
  2. Selecting small areas
  3. Pressing buttons on webpages


So now you know why replacing mouse strokes with keyboard shortcuts is a good idea, and can start thinking about how you want to use your 15 minutes free time. Start working on learning the keystrokes by using them; I promise you it will become easy and slick before you know it.


Image by Jennifer J

10 motivational songs that inspire me in the morning

Traffic jamI’ve got a great playlist that really helps motivate me. I sometimes listen to this when I’m driving in to work, and need a boost.

So if you already own these songs, then whack ’em on a playlist, if you don’t know these songs, check out the videos below..

1. Greatest day – Take That

“Today this could be the greatest day of our lives”

This is the first song on the list: What a sentiment!

2. Life – Our Lady Peace

“Life is waiting for you”

This track makes me feel as though everything I want is within reach and achievable.

3. Higher – Creed

“I’m strong enough to take these dreams and make them mine”

One of my favourite middle sections of a song ever…

4. Times Like These – Foo Fighters

“It’s times like these you learn to live again”

The Foo Fighters rock, and this song is a great pick-me-up.

5. St Elmo’s Fire – John Parr

“I can climb the highest mountain; I can cross the widest sea”

What a guilty pleasure; 80s inspiration at its best.

6. The Middle – Jimmy Eat World

“Everything will be alright”

A song for the under-dog, a cracking rhythm too.

7. Eye of the tiger – Survivor

“Rising up to the challenge of our rivals”

Yes. I am Rocky. I am running up steps as part of a montage with this song playing. Loudly.

8. Today – Smashing Pumpkins

“Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known”

I was a big Pumpkins fan when I was a teenager, this song takes me back.

9. Jump – Van Halen

“You’ve got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real”

Guilty pleasure #2. Nothing makes me as happy as that huge iconic synth sound…

10. Defying Gravity

“I’m through accepting limits, cos someone says they’re so”

Ah, musical theatre! One had to make the list somewhere…
Image ‘Traffic Jam’ by Buzrael

Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation: Hygiene factors and Motivator factors

One of my favourite management theory models is Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation. In this article I’m going to talk you through the model, and then describe how you can use it as a manager.

This post is part of my ‘models and theories’ series, of which previously I have posted about the unconscious and the competence in The Learning Cycle, and the SMART framework for setting objectives.

Herzberg's theory of motivationThe model in brief

Herzberg (1923-2000) was a management theorist, and his model looks at the various factors or conditions in the workplace, and how they impacted the motivation levels of the workforce.

Herzberg defined two types of factor; those that motivated (e.g. extra responsibility or recognition) and those that demotivated (e.g. salary, work conditions). He termed the former ‘motivating factors’ and the latter ‘hygiene factors’.

The key message is that different factors cause satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The presence of a motivator causes satisfaction, whereas the absence does not necessarily cause dissatisfaction. The absence of hygiene factors causes dissatisfaction, however the presence of these factors does not truly motivate.

So how do you use this theory in practice?

Hygiene factors: Blanket factors to make sure you’re achieving

Unless you are the CEO you’re unlikely to have much say over reward packages or office environment. However there are certain hygiene factors that are worth ensuring you achieve with your team.

  • Regular one to ones
  • Timely feedback on performance
  • Communication of company news or strategy
  • Open discussions about development
  • Work-life balance discussions

Check your management style – do you achieve these minimum factors? In today’s business world these are expected hygiene factors, and will cause a reduction in motivation if absent.

In my experience, team members are far more aware of the presence of poor hygiene factors than they are the lack of motivating factors.

Motivator factors: Individual factors to drive high performance

Every team is different, so knowing what can motivate can be difficult to define. Some examples might be:

  • Extra responsibility
  • Giving a presentation
  • Standing in for you when you’re on holiday

You know your team, it’s up to you to know what can motivate them. Many people are self-motivators, however it is a great skill for a manager to have the ability to create a motivated work-force, a skill that will get noticed quickly.

I would recommend you take an individual approach; i.e. make sure your ideas to motivate are directed at a team member, not the team. I’ve found that blanket team motivators don’t quite cut the mustard (and can become expected).

Be careful of blanket motivators – for example allowing everyone in your team to leave early every Friday. These have a motivational impact in the short term, but this quickly wanes. Also you might be creating ways of working that can become ‘custom’ and then be protected by tribunal. I’m not a lawyer, so get legal advice if you’re worried about this.

People are different

In your team you’ll be well aware that you’re individual members are very different. You need to use your judgement to motivate your team in different ways.

You can’t be Mr Motivator all of the time either, so pick your times wisely. Try to align your motivational activity to times when your team are receptive. If your team are working all hours to hit a deadline then the offer of extra responsibility is unlikely to make then feel motivated…


Make sure you avoid the classic hygiene factors to ensure your team are not demotivated. And make sure your next one-to-one includes some of those tasty motivators that will get your team on the road to high performance.

How to be rubbish at writing your CV

How good was your last CV? Did it get you the job? Or are you thinking about applying for a new role and need to brush up your CV?

This article is part of my ‘How to be Rubbish at Everything‘ series, and is built around the things you shouldn’t do (so you can learn from them).

Why not check out some of my other ‘How to be Rubbish at Everything’ articles – job interviews, presentations, exams and revising?

Don’t write a timeline

Have you ever written out a timeline of your life before? If not, you’re missing a trick; it really helps you to plan out an awesome CV.

CV timeline from
The key thing to ensure is that the timeline is to scale, meaning that time is shown in equal splits. This means that you see the relative importance of sections of your life by how long you’ve spent in them.

From this you can identify the key bits you want to focus on in your CV, and work backwards from there.

I use Excel to build my timelines; I use one column per month, and then colour in blocks that relate to different parts of my career. This way it’s easy to see my life summary.

Now, do you include this timeline in your CV? It depends. If your timeline is fairly straightforward then I wouldn’t bother, or if it draws too much attention to areas you don’t wish to focus on, I likewise wouldn’t include it. However if the timeline gives your CV a dynamic and modern look and feel then why not?

Don’t research examples from the web

Another way to screw up a CV is to not review other people’s CVs. If you google “CV” or “Resume” there are tons of examples out there. Download a bunch and see what looks good, and what looks pants.

Don’t just fire up Microsoft Word and start typing aimlessly. This will get you a rubbish CV super-fast.

Use strange or exciting fonts

I would recommend using Arial or Times New Roman on all CVs. Why? Because a CV is a time to be conservative in my opinion. If you get past the CV filter and get offered an interview then that’s the time to let your creativity flow.

Include timeline gaps

You know the feeling, if you could erase the years 2010 to 2012 from existence, then you wouldn’t have to explain your 2 year stint as a failed actor. These gaps are part of your history, and if you try to hide them this often gets picked up by thorough interviewers.

A good CV has no such gaps, and gives a feeling of openness and honesty. Find a way to be as positive as you can about the ‘gap’, and keep it brief. This way you can expand in the interview if asked, if not – happy days!

I’ve got a bloody great gap in my CV, four years spent being a musician. As I’m now a chartered management accountant I’ve got to explain the move every time I apply for a role. Add to this the fact that I started out on the path to being a doctor and you can see I’m a good example of a gapper. I’ve faced this down and got my story airtight, and it comes across (I hope) with integrity and honesty…

Don’t use action verbs

My sister-in-law Mary introduced me to this tip: Start every sentence with an action verb as you talk about your experience. It makes your CV sound far more proactive and dynamic. Notice the difference:
I was involved in a project to install a new accounting system.
Tested and supported the project leads with the installation of a new accounting system.
Which sounds better?

Make it really long

When I’m recruiting for a role, anything longer than 2 sides of A4 goes in the recycling bin. Nobody needs more than 2 sides of A4.


Slightly related to the previous point – but waffling is a bad idea on CVs and in interviews. Keep your sentences short and snappy and try to keep the reader’s engagement up at all times.

Don’t get someone trusted to review it

My wife always looks at my CV for me when I’m ready to send it out. She doesn’t hold back…

That’s exactly what you need in a reviewer; someone that you trust that has your best interests at heart. They will spot the crap stuff, and any typos that you’ve snuck in, and give you massively honest feedback.

Include spelling and grammar errors

If you have spelled a word wrong, or if your grammar sucks, then you may find your CV ends up in the recycling bin. There is no excuse for this with today’s spell check and the fact that you’ve got someone you trust to review it, right?

Send it out in Word Doc format

Don’t get me wrong, word is a great program that I use a lot, but sending your CV out in this format is bad for a number of reasons:

  1. The format may display differently and look rubbish,
  2. The recruiting manager may not have word (unlikely), or have a different version to you (likely)
  3. Word allows editing, so you open yourself to accidental deletes or keystrokes from the person you sent it to

So what format to send it in? PDF baby! PDF all the way!


So by not doing any of the above you should be in a good place to land that dream interview by nailing the CV stage. Go-on, change your life and land your dream role!

If you have landed your dream interview, be sure to check out my How to be Rubbish at Interviews article, packed with a similar amount of no-nonsense, practical advice.

You can download my PDF list of these pointers that you can print off – see below.How to be rubbish at writing CVs and Resumes

Using Evernote to manage my team and me

I’ve been implementing my own version of GTD using Evernote, and have come up with a good way to stay in touch with management of my team.

Action / Context tags

One aspect of my Evernote system is context tags. These all start with ‘@’, which keeps them near the top of the tag list, and tells me what type of note it is. I started off just using @action, which told me I had to do something. As I got more comfortable with Evernote I realised I could expand this to include other types of activity. I now use 5 context tags:

  • @action – something I need to do
  • @waiting for – something that someone else (not in my team) is doing for me
  • @delegate – something I have given to my team to do
  • @feedback – specific feedback that I want to give to my team members
  • @discuss – something I want to discuss

These have really helped me stay on top of things. It’s easy to forget what you’ve asked your guys to do, and easy to forget specific feedback you want to give. Using these tags allow me to get closer to Dave Allen’s ‘Mind like water’.

Name tags

I tag each note with the name of the person that it relates to. I have one tag for each member of my team, and a tag for other key stakeholders (eg wife, boss, mother-in-law etc…)

So when I’m preparing for a one to one with a team member I pull up their name tag, and use the context tags to remind me what I’ve delegated, what needs to be fed-back and so on.

Trusted system

Now my team management is completely out of my head, in a trusted system. I add notes as they occur, and then can forget about it until the appropriate time. Dave Allen would be proud (I hope…!)

For info on my notebook and tag setup, check out this post, and for an honest appraisal of my first ever GTD attempt using Evernote, click here

How to be Rubbish at Exams

Exams… Everyone hates ’em… You’ve probably found your way here because you want to know how to be good at taking exams, right?

So if I tell you How to be Rubbish instead, would that be OK? These anti-tips are designed to help you spot the common mistakes you’re making, and to offer tips on how to overcome them. And at the end of the article is a printable check list so you can remind yourself what NOT to do…

Don’t revise

Exams are about knowledge and technique, meaning if you don’t revise you’ll never have the correct level of knowledge.

I’ve got an article describing how to be totally rubbish at revising, which is worth a read if you haven’t already…

Don’t worry about logistics

There is no worse preparation for an exam than turning up late. You have put yourself at a psychological disadvantage compared to other students due to being stressed and harassed.

Make sure you’ve planned your exam day route in advance, and have left yourself enough time to get there. I always aim to have at least 30 minutes spare in my journey ‘just in case’.

Stationary doesn’t matter

What happens if your pen runs out? What happens if your calculator runs out of batteries or stops working? Make sure you have plenty of spare pens/pencils, and at least spare batteries if you need a calculator. Also make sure that you know the rules – i.e. some exam boards demand black ink and only allow certain models of calculator (which is true of CIMA – the last set of exams that I did).

Don’t worry about the format of the paper

Do you know how many sections there are in the paper, and what the mark split is between each of them? Do you know whether there is any choice between questions, or if you have to attempt all questions? These are really important facts that you must know the answer to. There is no better way to fail an exam than to either miss a mandatory section out, or to attempt two questions you’re supposed to choose between.

I’m a bit of a stickler for practicing papers, and this is a really good way to ensure that you know what you’re supposed to do in the exam hall. This helps you learn what the format is, so you intrinsically know it, meaning you don’t need to waste valuable exam brain space thinking about which questions you need to answer.

Stay up all night cramming

One of the most important contributions to exam success is a good nights sleep. If you cram until 2am you are very unlikely to get any quality sleep – your mind will be racing. Try and give yourself at least 30 minutes unwinding time before diving into bed to help you get good deep sleep.

I’ve mentioned this before but I hate cramming as a technique. You only need to cram if you’ve not put enough time into your revision, and this happens if you don’t give yourself enough time to revise or have a proper plan… Whew, rant over…


If you get caught cheating in an exam, there can be serious implications. You’ll probably fail the exam and get a black mark against your name. Future university or job applications may be impacted too. Also – can you be sure that the guy you’re copying from has got the answer right anyway?

Don’t answer the question asked

In the heat of the exam it’s really easy to skim read the question and dive straight into writing your answer. You’ve got loads of past paper questions swishing around in your short-term memory and you feel you know what the examiner wants.

This approach may lead you into the trap of answering the question you want them to ask, rather than the question they HAVE asked. The usual outcome for this is to gain zero marks – which is especially dangerous if it there are loads of marks allocated to the question.

My advice is to read questions twice before diving in. Granted, this is using up your valuable exam time, but I would rather lose a minute of writing time but gain a full understanding of what the examiner wants.

Don’t split your exam time by marks available

Every exam has a marking scheme – often this is clear in the paper itself. You need to allocate the same amount of time to each mark of the paper. If you spend the same amount of time on a 5 mark question as a 20 mark question then you’re not getting the balance right. You’ve either written too much for the 5 marker, or not written enough for the 20 marker.

In my CIMA exams we had 1.8 minutes per mark (3 hours paper giving 100 marks). My trick was to write down the actual time that I should start answering the question – e.g. Q1 09:00, Q2 09:10, Q3 09:35. This meant that I stayed in touch with the mark allocation and used my time in an efficient manner.

Leave the exam hall early

There are two reasons why people leave exams early

  1. They’ve decided that they’ve screwed the exam up
  2. They’ve decided that they’ve nailed it – and want everyone in the exam hall to know

Both are rubbish reasons to leave early. If you think you’ve mucked the exam up, then use every last scrap of time to try and eek another mark or two out. If you think you’ve nailed it – why don’t you have another read of the questions again, checking that you really have answered the question fully?


Exams are tests of your technique and knowledge and you need to make sure you’ve given yourself the best chance of passing. If you don’t think about the technique of exams then you are giving yourself an uphill struggle – no matter how knowledgeable you are in the subject matter.

If you enjoyed this latest post in my How to be Rubbish at Everything, then please share this with your friends. There are other articles in my How to be Rubbish series such as How to be Rubbish at Revising, How to be Rubbish at Interviews, and How to be Rubbish at Presentations which I hope you find useful.

The check-list below is a useful way to remind yourself what you need to not do to be great at exams – best of luck!

How to be rubbish at exams

Christine Ohuruogu’s inspirational gold medal interview

Christine Ohuruogu
Christine Ohuruogu, by rosshuggett – found on Flickr

Wow, what a result for Christine Ohuruogu – a gold medal at the 2013 World Athletics Championship for the Women’s 400m by 4 thousandths of a second! As the GB team captain in Moscow, Christine certainly knows what it takes to perform at the highest level.

This morning I heard Christine’s winning interview and was inspired by her simple, but powerful message:

“The race isn’t won until I cross the line. I didn’t know if I had won or not. I dipped anyway. I knew I had to do whatever I could to make life harder for Amantle. If it was going to go close to the wire, I wanted to make it as hard as possible for her.”

There are many examples within sport we can use to inspire us – and this interview excerpt has some key take-home messages that are really applicable in day-to-day life.

The race isn’t won until you cross the line

It’s easy to give up – especially if you assume you’ve lost. Perhaps you feel that you will be overlooked for the next promotion, or that an exciting opportunity may be offered to someone else. Listen to Christine, and don’t assume anything. It’s never too late to make a change, so keep going until you cross the line.

Do your best no matter what you think the outcome will be

Again, this ties in with the first point, but the focus is more on your performance. Aim for the top in everything you do, whether it be a piece of work for your boss, or a 400m World Championship Final!

Your performance is in your hands. Listen to Christine and try your hardest, no matter what you think will happen.

In tight situations make it difficult for your opponent

Going back to my promotion example, perhaps you’ve assumed that another colleague is a shoe-in for the opportunity. Even if this is the case, aim to disrupt this by being as good as you can be – make the decision a hard one for management and you never know.

Imagine if Christine had decided that Amantle had won the race – she’d now be sitting on a silver medal, rather than being one if the most successful British female athletes of all time… Which would you prefer?

I’ve included the video below for those that want to see the race again.

How to be Rubbish at Revising

Revising for exams is a key skill that can make a big difference to your future. If you’d like to know some tips on how to be better at revising, then you’ve come to the right place…

This article is part of my How to be Rubbish at Everything series, the objective of which is to highlight all of the main reasons why you fail at revising. If you want to pass exams, you’ve got to get good at revising.

This is my third How to be Rubbish guide, the other two are How to be Rubbish at Job Interviews, and How to be Rubbish at Presentations. If you enjoy this guide then why not grab the other two?

Leave it too late

Learning stuff takes time, and if you leave it too late then you will struggle to learn enough stuff to pass the exam. Start revising early – a good rule of thumb is 2 to 3 months before the exam date.

Learning over a longer period of time will increase your chances of embedding the knowledge into your long-term memory, this making it easier the access in the exam hall.

For example, you might wondering when to start your GCSE revision period. I would plan to begin your revising plan for GCSEs directly after your mocks have been completed. This should give you plenty of time to cover the syllabus for each exam, and your knowledge gaps are fresh in your mind.

Don’t create a schedule

To pass this exam you need to cover the length and breadth of the material in the syllabus. One of the challenges of revising is making sure that you have covered everything, so you need to be organised and efficient. Create a schedule that allows enough time to be spent on all the parts of the syllabus, and track your progress against your initial plan. You will need to be flexible as you may find that you fall behind, so it’s wise to build in some contingency (by leaving yourself a week or so before the exam is due).
There are lots of simple products out there that can help you; this wall calendar from Amazon only costs a couple of quid so it wins my vote. Keep it simple – you only need enough space to write the category or topic you are covering that day – so you definitely don’t need to spend loads on a flashy wall calendar.

Continuing my GCSE revision example, it can be quite daunting to revise multiple subjects at once. You have upwards of 9 GCSEs to revise for – including killer subjects like GCSE maths and science! My advice is to schedule equal amounts of time for each subject, otherwise you can end up over-weighting your revision plan for the harder subjects, and drop back in those you find easier.

Gamble on topics

So many people do this; play the topic guessing game with the examiner. By this I mean choosing a limited scope of topics to revise in the hope that they ‘come-up’ in the exam. The only way to be confident of success is to cover the whole syllabus, which completely removes the element of luck from the process. This gamble may seem like a good idea if you have limited time (i.e. you have ignored my ‘leave it too late’ advice) but even then I would prefer to cover everything slightly more thinly than a thick coat on a chosen few topics.

For the gamblers amongst you this may seem like an exciting game to play – unfortunately if you lose this game then you fail your exam!

Don’t use your best time of the day

Revising is hard; you need to take in facts and constantly test your ability. If you are not using your best time of the day then you are hamstringing your efforts. Set a time for revision and stick to it. See my post here on prioritising important activities that is particularly relevant to revising.

For me I have always found that I work best in the morning. When completing my CIMA exams I was working full-time in a busy finance job so needed to get the best out of my limited revision time. I found that I could squeeze an hour of revision in every week day between 5am and 6am, which meant I was working at my best.

Don’t find somewhere quiet to work

Revising needs your full attention and a clear mind. There’s a reason why loads of people troop down to the local library to do most of their revision – it’s quiet and they’re able to concentrate. Have you tried to revise with the TV or radio on? How about revising on the computer? In my opinion these techniques will distract you from getting the most out of your revision time and contribute to a big fat fail.

Revising somewhere similar to an exam hall (e.g. library) also helps get you psyched up for the big day. On the day of the exam you want to be as calm as possible, so mimicking the conditions in the exam hall is a really good idea.

Avoid testing yourself

Exams test you. So you need to test yourself.

Whether your memory or technical ability is being tested you need to start practicing past papers at an early stage. This is great because it shows you how the examiner phrases his/her questions, plus gets you ‘match-fit’ in terms of exam technique. Most exam boards have published past papers you can access so make sure you download all of these and build these tests into your schedule.

At the start of your revision schedule I would recommend picking out questions one-by-one, answering them with an open-book (i.e. with your textbook open) so you get the feel for the flow of the question. Always compare your answer to the official answer to learn what you may have missed. Scale this approach gradually up until a few weeks before the exam you are answering full exam papers under timed exam conditions.

Letts are a great company who make lots of revision guides and practice paper books.

Don’t use revision cards

We all have dead-time in our lives – however when you are in a revising period you need to make sure you are maximising this time fully. Using A5 or smaller revision cards you can write out the main points and then carry the cards with you everywhere. This means next time you’re waiting for a bus you can invest that dead-time into value-adding memory sessions.

You can buy blank revision cards from Amazon for less than £2, which is pretty cheap in my opinion so no reason not to take this tip seriously.


My wife and I disagree on this point: I believe that ‘cramming’ (the act of stuffing last minute facts into your brain the night before the exam) doesn’t help you retain facts in the exam hall. Our brains are amazing things, but when stressed out they lose the ability to prioritise facts. When you cram you are forcing your brain to remember the last things you remembered rather than the most important things.

Cramming also represents a macho revision style that I encountered at medical school. People who revise like this want others to believe they are clever enough to pass exams with the minimum of effort – they don’t need to put all those hours in… Anyone who thinks like that is a tool in my opinion.

Be unhealthy

Being unhealthy during a revision period is easy! Your brain is so tired from all that reading and testing that all you want to do is eat chocolate and watch TV, right? Being healthy will lengthen your revision days and keep you awake longer. Key tips are:

  • Avoid too much Caffeine (you get a crash the next day)
  • Don’t live on junk food
  • Sugar – instant high followed by a crash
  • Take breaks from study by going outside for walks or bike rides
  • Avoid too much screen time (i.e. computers and tablets) when not revising

Don’t believe in yourself

Finally – you need to believe that you can pass this exam. If you go into your revision period with a negative mental attitude then you are far more likely to lose confidence and motivation along the way. Close your eyes and imagine the feeling when you open the exam results and find that you have passed! Imagine phoning your mum to tell her your good news! You can do it – but you’ve got to believe in yourself.


How to be Rubbish at Revising TicklistI hope you have found this article helpful – you can print off the checklist PDF below that will help you work out which of these problems you are still guilty of. Revising is pretty simple really – if you put in the hours you get the rewards, so don’t follow these Rubbish tips and you’ll go far. Good Luck!!!

Unconscious to Conscious: The Learning Cycle

There is a great model first developed by Noel Burch which is called The Learning Cycle. This model describes four states which we move through as we learn.

The Learning Cycle - and how to adapt your management style to it
The Learning Cycle – how to adapt your management style to the states that your team will move through

Being aware of this model is important as a manager; if you’re expecting your team to learn something new then expect them to move through these states. Your management style may need to adapt depending on which state your team member is in.

I will talk through each section of the model using learning to drive a car as the example.

Unconscious Incompetence

When a child observes his/her parents driving a car, the skill seems easy. You move a steering wheel and gear stick around – how hard can that be? The child is unaware that driving a car is a very complex task that will take many months to master.

As a manager you will encounter this state whenever you have a new member of your team. They will observe their new responsibilities from a this-must-be-easy angle, and may attempt to over-simplify. Your management style should be hands on, getting involved in the process and reviewing stuff at a granular level. You also need to make sure your team member knows what your expectations are – which will help when they first attempt the task.

Conscious Incompetence

Conscious incompetence arrives when you first try to perform the activity. You are sitting in front of a steering wheel with no idea how to make the car move forward. You are still incompetent, it’s just that now you know it.

As a manager this state will present itself when your new team member is attempting the tricky activity for the first time. They will have under-estimated the requirements and may well miss targets or deadlines. Your management style should be supportive, helping them to understand what went wrong and what they could do better next time. You need to help your team member believe that they can master the skill, and that failure is part of learning. Failing is never a problem as long as you learn from it.

“Just because you fail once doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything.” Marilyn Monroe

Conscious Competence

Once you have mastered the task you enter the conscious competence state. Do you remember your driving test? You are hyper-aware of every aspect of driving and every action you take is conscious. You are now competent, but you are working really hard to be so. This state is tiring.

As a manager you need to use an encouraging management style, reinforcing their performance with positive feedback. As they are hyper-aware of the task, they are also hyper-aware (and perhaps hyper-sensitive) of what you think. A little acknowledgment and feedback goes a long way in this state.

Unconscious Competence

Once you have been doing a task for a while it will become unconscious. Think how you drive a car now. Do you actively think through each action as you do it? No, your hands and feet do their work almost automatically.

As a manager you will find it rewarding when your team members enter this state. For me, it’s one of the features of a high performing team. However great leaders don’t just stop here and put their feet up. Their management style will be challenging, or even demanding. By further pushing/encouraging your team members to improve performance on the task you will start to embed a continuous improvement culture, which will make your team (and you) stand out from the crowd.

Not all learning cycles are the same length; it might be that you only spend hours or minutes moving between each state…


The Learning Cycle is a great tool to help you understand what steps your team are going to move through when learning new things. The key success factor of great managers is the ability to adjust and adapt your management style to the situation; you need to be flexible as you manage your team to their next great success.

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