Category: Personal Growth

Notes from: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

This blog post consists of some of the key passages from this book that I wanted to remember.

Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing. Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, etc. The problem is giving too many f*cks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a f*ck about less, giving a fuck about only watch is true and immediate and important.

Happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfilment and meaning have to be earned through choosing and managing of our struggles. Whether you suffer from anxiety or loneliness or obsessive-compulsive disorder or a dickhead boss who ruins half of your waking hours every day, the solution lies in the acceptance and active engagement of the negative experience – not the avoidance of it, not the salvation from it.

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of the gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can benchpress a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it… People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live and make it.

The truth is that there’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future. Likely people you know too. That doesn’t minimise the problem or mean that it shouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean you aren’t legitimately a victim in some circumstances. It means you are not special.

The ticket to emotional health, like that to physical health, comes from eating your veggies – that is, accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: truths such as “your actions don’t actually matter that much in the grand scheme of things” and “the vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.” This vegetable course will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it.

The fact is, people who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning about their mistakes. They lack the ability to take on new perspectives and empathise with others. They close themselves off to new and important information. It’s far more helpful to assume you’re ignorant and don’t know a whole lot. This keeps you unattached to superstitious or poorly informed beliefs and promotes a constant state of learning and growth.

We all love to take responsibility for success and happiness. Hell, we often fight over who gets to be responsible for success and happiness. But taking responsibility for our problems is far more important, because that’s where the real learning comes from. That’s where the real-life improvement comes from. To simply blame others is only to hurt yourself.

People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good. AS political cartoonist Tim Kreider put it in a New York Times op-ed: “Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure.” But part of living in a democracy and a free society is that we all have to deal with vies and people we don’t necessarily like. That’s simply the price we pay – you could even say it’s the whole point of the system. And it seems more and more people are forgetting that.

Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. As the old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.

Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy. Even when you’re farting fairy dust. Even when you win the lottery and buy a small fleet of Jet Skis, you still won’t know what the hell you’re doing. Don’t eve forget that. And don’t ever be afraid of that.

If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something – anything, really – and then harness the reaction to do that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.

Honesty is a natural human craving. But part of having honesty in our lives is becoming comfortable with saying and hearing the world “no”. In this way, rejection actually makes our relationships better and emotional lives healthier.

Thinking about 2017 #teacher5aday

As 2016 comes to a close I am reflecting on what goals to set for 2017. This Guardian article puts new year’s resolutions in perspective:

“If you want to know what matters to people most, you need look no further than surveys of New Year resolutions. These are the top five according to the most recent YouGov poll: 1. Lose weight. 2. Get fitter 3. Eat more healthily. 4. Take more care of my appearance. 5. See more of friends and family.

So I think that puts us straight on where friends and family sit in our collective priorities. Also notably non-prioritised are resolutions to be kinder, to try to help the poor, read more and better books or stop watching junk TV. What we truly resolved to care about, it turns out, is quite simple – ourselves.” – Tim Lott “My New Year resolution is not to do better, but to do what I can”

2016 was a year of change. I got a new job, got an allotment, and gave up the allotment and moved from commuting to London to living in London. I also finished my seemingly never ending Masters degree in educational leadership. I also have began a process of simplifying my life – looking for small ways to remove complexity; for example storing all digital documents in one cloud service rather than four. 

I have decided to structure my goals for the year linked to Martyn Reah’s teacher five a day pledge (more details here). I have however changed some of the headings to meet my own aims for the year.


To continue to keep it simple. Consider whether possessions are needed; following the principle of Marie Kondo’s Tidy. Does it bring pleasure? In addition living in a one bedroom flat – space is a premium.

Target: For every new thing responsibly get rid of an old thing. One in one out!


Get more serious about exercising – specifically do more. I am going to continue running but be more specific. Over the course of the year I would like to attempt to run 1000km. This works out at about 2.7km a day.

Target: Run 1,000km in 2017


I am lucky enough to live in one of the great world cities, London, less than a mile from the Tower of London. This is an opportunity that might not last forever and I should ensure we make the most of it. My wife and I have joined Tate so plan as part of this to see the majority of the exhibits in both the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain.

Target: Walk once a week in the city – take a photograph or two – write a paragraph about it.


This is the area that I am being more specific about and want to split into three different categories. Continuing to read regularly, I have read 100 books a year for the last five years and plan to do so again this year. I use the website Goodreads to track books read and my progress, see here. This has been more challenging since September when I don’t have an hour on a train; however as I don’t have a TV anymore it is still achievable. Secondly, for the first time in a while I am not completing any formal academic study; however I want to stay in touch with academic research. I am aiming to split this between Geography research and Education / Leadership research. I think an achievable goal is one article per week; with two weeks off! I am also vaguely interested in starting a PhD – so want to spend some time researching the feasibility as well as writing a proposal.


  • Read 100 books in 2017
  • Read 50 academic journal articles (split between Geography and Education)
  • Complete a PhD research proposal (even if I don’t do a PhD go through the exercise of writing a research proposal.


As I am still settling into a new home and a new job I think it will be difficult to commit to a regular volunteering position. However I miss having an allotment so want to work with my wife to transform some of the garden space where we live.

Target: Create a garden where we live – develop a way to work with the other residents.


Ensure a meaningful work life balance. This is the last; as it is the most difficult; however I think it is important, in many ways the most important. As a teacher and senior leader the work is always never ending – but there needs to be a limit placed on work. 

Target: I don’t have a specific measurable target – I will revisit this later in the year.

It is now time to celebrate the changing of the year, but I will try and come back and reflect on the progress made at regular points throughout 2017.


This is how I work (March 2016)

This blog post was inspired by a similar post on Oliver Quinlan’s blog here; which I was directed to through his weekly Quinlearning newsletter (find out more here – it is a useful weekly round up of developments in edutech with other wider information).  This it itself is based on the lifehacker ‘this is how I work’ – which make interesting reading and can be found on the US Lifehacker site or the UK lifehacker site.


Location: Live in Brentwood and work in Islington, North London

Current Job: Head of Humanities teaching Geography and Politics as well as managing a team of teachers.

One word that best describes how you work: Efficiently – I am quick to try and get through things and clear them off the list; though sometimes it means that I don’t proof read as much as I should.

Current mobile device: An iPhone 6s. I love the phone though recently the battery life has been awful. I need to investigate whether it is an app or a malfunction – as the phone is too new to just suffer from an elderly battery.

Current computer (and what OS is it running?): My school laptop is a Dell laptop – though that stays at work. It runs Windows 7.

My personal computer is a mid-2010 MacBook pro that is still going strong. I have upgraded it to 8GB memory and it is currently running OSX El Capitan. I keep thinking I should replace it – however there is no need at the moment as it is still works like a charm.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

Dropbox – it syncs my key files on all the computers I use; allows me to access files on my phone and effectively backs up all my files. It is also a really easy way of sharing large files without clogging up email.

Evernote – in the last few years I have essentially gone paperless; this allows me to maintain a virtual filing cabinet which I can access anywhere. I use it for keeping electronic copies of financial statements, periodicals, and anything else that traditionally would have been kept in a filing cabinet.

Endnote – this is used as a filing cabinet for academic papers – storing copies of PDF and creating references and bibliographies for writing. The iPad app is perfect for annotating papers on the go without printing. Its integration with Word makes writing  academic papers much easier as it automatically compiles bibliography and formats references.

Lastpass – this is a great way to remember passwords; I use this with the yubikey 2-factor authentication and I am just experimenting with their authenticator app.

Google Drive and Docs – at school we use Google Apps for Education. This allows sharing of documents among the team and with students. It is great value for educational institutions (free); and I currently have 85gb of files in the drive – this can be accessed from any computer and by mobile app.


Physical tools that I can’t live without is my HP printer and Canon flatbed scanner; sometimes you need things on paper and my HP P1005 is cheap to run (if you use compatible cartridges), quick and good quality black and white. The scanner is essential in scanning paperwork and then getting them into evernote.


What’s your workspace setup like?

Both at home and at work I have a twin monitor set up (the laptop screen and an external screen). I find working across two monitors a huge time saver; particularly when looking at data or putting together lesson resources. I also have my iPad docked on my desk at home – this is great as it stays charged and can also function as a third monitor if needed.

I have stuck on the wall in eye line my teaching timetable. I will always have my moleskine notebook at arms reach. This is where I keep notes from meetings, to do lists, and facts that I use correctly.


I also have a book shelf with textbooks that I regularly use and other reference tools at arms reach. I try to keep this well curated – with less use texts being demoted to other bookshelves or stored in the garage.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 19.38.12

Using the same calendar for both home and work (I use google calendar) – and putting everything into the calendar. School deadlines, birthdays, even down to every lesson on my teaching timetable. This means I can instantly look either on my computer or phone and work out what I have coming up and if I am free to meet with colleagues or not. I used a free tool called timetable convertor – however just checking it seems to have disappeared – so will need to find a new tool next academic year. It took a couple of hours to set up at the beginning of the year but pays dividends many times over.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

I don’t use one – I have tried doing all kinds of electronic apps and websites however I find nothing beats pen and paper. I use my notebook for medium and long term to-do do lists. I sue a post it stuck on the outside of my notebook for that days list.

I also obsessively file emails – anything sitting in my inbox needs me to do something with it.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My external battery pack – my phone will usually run out of juice on the commute home unless I charge it at some point (particularly if I have been watching TV on the journey in the morning). The one I am using at the moment is this RAVPower 16750mAh; it is not the smallest but I find it convenient that it lasts the whole week so I only need to charge it at weekends.

I also really like my google chromecast. It is great to be able to steam digital media to my non-smart TV.

What are you currently reading?

With two hours a day spent commuting I read a significant amount; I usually manage about two books a week. Though recently I have read less, and been watching more TV on the train – this is something I need to redress.

At the moment I am reading:










I read about 100 books a year; and use goodreads to manage my reading; you can see more information about what I read on Goodreads. However I will frequenly just mark a book as currently reading when I start reading – and every few months tidy up the finish dates by estimating when I finished the book.

How do you recharge?

I recharge through getting outside. This could be through walking in the countryside or just pounding the streets and people watching in a city. I also will spend time geocaching, particularly more rural geocache trails (my geocaching profile).

I also watch TV, currently working my way through DVDs of Chicago Fire.

What’s your sleep routine like?

My alarm goes off at 5am every weekday morning; therefore I am normally in bed around 10pm. I don’t have any problem sleeping most nights. The only problem is it means on weekends I am normally up by 6.30 as I can’t get used to lying in bed!

I try not to take my phone to bed – and instead put it on charge in either our office or the living room.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

I don’t have a named individual, instead it is a group of people. I am not a personal fan of all politicians; though I think politicians do a fantastic job of multitasking. They have to manage pressures of Parliament, Party, Constituency, along with family and personal life.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t go to work to get your love. That doesn’t mean that you should not love your work; but don’t do things at work for love, praise, or approval – do them because they need doing or are in the pupil’s best interest.

Notes from ‘Busy’ by Tony Crabbe

This book was an interesting one; and one that is relevant in all walks of life. However there are some clear ideas that can be applied to teaching. The below are my notes:


‘Busyness’ is that frantic, always alert, multitasking that propels us through overburdened lives. It involves being always ‘on’, glancing regularly at our phones and jumping from task to task. It is the juggling, cramming, and rushing that makes up so much of our daily existence. It is urgency, distraction and exhaustion.

Why is busyness a bad thing?

  • Busyness is bad for your health – accelerated wear and tear on the human body.
  • Busyness is bad for relationships.
  • Busyness is bad for your happiness – people who focus on external values – money, stuff and status – are less happy and less healthy than people who focus on things that busyness kills: relationships, personal growth, or contribution to your community.
  • Busyness is bad for your career – it is not quantity that matters – the thing that matters it is attention and differentiation: people who are able to cut through the frenzy of activity are who get notice.
  • Busyness is bad for business – creativity is needed over busy.

Why we’re really busy

  • Lack of control – we give up our sense of control and feel helpless in the face of so many demands.
  • Lack of choice – We are too lazy to think of alternatives; busyness is the easiest option.
  • Lack of boundaries – work life boundary is diminished due to technology.
  • Lack of focus.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Lack of momentum.

How to find time – quick ways to create space in your life

  1. Use the word ‘because’ – when turning down a request that will take up time use the word because; this makes the listener respond as though there must be a good reason.
  2. Switch off – be deliberate and intentional when you ‘check in’ on main and messages.
  3. Turn off the notifier – turn off the ping or email notification.
  4. Kill a meeting – either cancel a meeting or don’t attend.
  5. Think of the time … and double it – when planning how long a task will take, estimate it and then double it.
  6. Watch the clock – if you want to get through a large amount of tasks carefully watch the clock as this will focus you and help you work quicker.
  7. Finish on time – this helps raise time awareness, and it also stops creating space and time in our diaries.
  8. Start Quicker – read through a task or think through a task early on – then leave it and work on something else – your subconscious will be thinking through the task which will make it easier when attempting the main body.
  9. Clear your head – write down ideas rather than remember them, don’t analyse things when you record them. Go through your brain-dump list regularly.
  10. Hold on a minute – think through a task before you start it to ensure you are doing it the most efficient way.
  11. Take a (good) break – When you take a break (and do) make sure it is a valuable one and do something different than you have been doing.

Feeling More In Control

You cannot control the demands made on you, however you can feel in control of your response to those demands.

  • Let go – let the inputs wash by you, and focus on the outputs you choose to make.
  • It’s not your fault you can’t do it all – let go of your desire to do it all.
  • Create a rhythm to you day, build in breaks and recovery tim to reduce you allostatic load and to increase you ability to immerse yourself in the things that are important.

How to Make Better Choices

  • We make great choices when we’re cold, but in the grip of temptation (when we’re hot) all our best intentions disappear. So stay ‘cold’ for longer, and make better decisions about your priorities.
  • When the brain is tired, we’re more likely to do the thing that requires less choice, less risk/ That means the busy, depleted brain is less able to make the choices to step beyond busyness. Make your choices when your brain is fresh.

Setting Limits

  • Boundaries restrict us, but they also protect us; we have to set them, and negotiate them ourselves.
  • Manage your boundaries in three ways: offer more to get more in return; be clear about which boundaries matter for you.
  • When negotiating don’t offer just one option; but three; more often than not, people will choose the middle ‘compromise’ option.

Being Different: Positioning and Differentiation

  • There are two ways to succeed: through productivity (the ‘More’ game) or through differentiation. The best way is to differentiate yourself; do things better.
  • There are four strategic positions you can take: everything, everyone; audience-based; product-based; niche. Everything, everyone is the most common, and it’s rubbish. Audience-based differentiation means serving the unique needs of your key stakeholders; product-based differentiation means developing unique capabilities or expertise.
  • Trade-offs: choosing not to pursue great ideas in order to go deep on others is hard, but that is strategy.

Efficient Thinking

  • The big thing to remember if you want to think better is to minimise your multitasking. Switching regularly between tasks makes you slower and dumber, even if you feel productive.
  • Do one thing at a time by getting things out of your head and externalising your thinking.
  • Cut down on the amount you switch your attention between tasks by working in bigger chunks of time, and minimising distraction.

Stop Procrastinating

  • Busyness is a form of procrastination: doing lots of simple, un-taxing activities rather than a few important ones.
  • The four horseman of procrastination are: Perfection, Mood, Fear and Dependence.
  • Deal with perfection by creating momentum through thin-slicing and swiss-cheesing. (Thin-slicing is tackling a task for dedicated fixed periods of time; whereas swiss-cheesing is tackling bits of a task one by one).
  • When you’re ‘not in the Mood’ make progress despite that by selecting useful, but easier tasks; reverse your mood with music or movement.


  • To make a less defensive, more positive approach requires confidence. To build confidence you need to work on your self-esteem and self-efficacy.
  • Low self-esteem makes us poorer judges of the best focus of our attention, focusing on keeping everyone happy all of the time, and trapping us in a prevention mindset.
  • Have the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to make mistakes – all three things we need to move beyond busyness.
  • High self-efficacy makes you more able to take the ‘road less travelled’ – it increases your belief, lets you persist longer in the face of challenges, and you experience more flow.
  • When you’re confident you will be able to cope no matter what ; you will have self-efficacy.

It is important to ‘Make Good Intentions Stick’

Building Momentum

  • Good intentions don’t last long; if you intent to do something, take action quickly! It’s all about momentum.
  • It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lapse into inertia. So start building momentum by getting really clear about the behaviour you want to change, and the context you’ll make that change in.
  • Start really small, build on the fact that we like to be consistent and make the next step for yourself obvious.


  • To make lasting changes you need willpower. But one thing is almost certain: your willpower is weaker than you think it is.
  • Willpower is limited; it gets used up, leaving us ego depleted and less able to resist further temptations.
  • The good news is that you can strengthen your willpower. A strengthening of willpower in one area spreads to other aspects of your life.