Useful brain hacks for every day scenarios

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a chairman on our board who brings huge clarity of thought to the business.

He’s unemotional yet thoughtful. If he doesn’t have an immediate answer for something, he instinctively understands how to search for the answer. He has a natural sense of the real priority of work and for what level of discussion to have.

So I asked him for some of his favourite brain hacks…simple tricks he uses when he has a mental challenge to overcome. A couple of his insights were very useful, so I thought I’d share them here. Do share your own brain hacks in the comments.

Artificial deadlines

He has a clever technique for bringing tough choices to a conclusion and avoiding procrastination. This is especially useful for life changing decisions such as moving country or taking that new job.

To put an end to the decision making process he sets a deadline for the decision to be made. Say 6pm on Monday. At five minutes to 6 he usually doesn’t know the answer but in those 5 minutes something clicks, and by 6pm the answer is always there.

I suspect just having to pick an answer even if sub consciously you know the deadline is made up tricks the brain in to forcing the best option forward, even if none of the options are great.


This will all be over by then

If there’s an important meeting with stakeholders, a scary appointment with the doctor or a tough chat with an employee – he simply keeps in mind the fact that by “X time”, the thing will have passed and won’t matter anymore.

If it doesn’t matter after X time, chances are it probably doesn’t matter now.

The 10/10/10 rule

This is one of my brain hacks.  The 10/10/10 is the framing of the outcome of a decision across three timeframes. This is

How will I feel about the outcome 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now?

The answers to these questions provide a different perspective and usually help to find the correct answer without being misguided by perhaps overwhelming circumstances at the time of making the decision.

To summarise

It seems that the super smart people who do well in life don’t just think, they think about thinking.

Whilst they might not always be able to overcome their cognitive limitations or biases all the time, they do their best to remain mindful of them and not always allow the bias to drive the thought process.

I’ll end with one of my favourite philosophies, it’s called Hanlon’s Razor, and it goes like this:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I repeat this phrase to myself at least once per month. Whether for somebody driving erratically on the M25, or a friend or  family member acting in a manner I cannot comprehend. It pays to remember that they’re probably just being malicious, like me they’re subject to the randomness of thought patterns and most people possibly don’t think about thinking perhaps as much as they could.

Humans are complex and weird creatures, we do weird and dumb stuff, and it’s not always malicious. It just is. And if everybody cut each other just a bit more slack at times when they’re uncertain of another person’s true intentions, we would probably all rub along just that bit better.

Read More

Outside interests

It’s been a busy year since I last posted back in mid-2014.

I no longer run my software company on a day to day basis, and now take part only at a board level. The new managing director of Atlas is ridiculously talented, so I’m free to pursue other opportunities.  This allows me to spend the majority of my time on Staff Squared, primarily around sales, marketing and product development. I’m also just about to launch a new web app called Things Click but that’s top secret for now. Hopefully I’ll be able to start making noises about Things Click in the next few weeks once the prototype is complete.

With my newfound freedom I’m free to pursue more extra curricular activities . So recently I’ve decided to turn my hand to flying a plane, specifically obtaining a private pilots license. I’ve always been a plane geek, I love the fact that it was only in 1903 that humans discovered the ability to fly and we’ve achieved so much with this new science and technology in such a short space of time. My ambition is to get my pilots license, and then an instructors rating so I can teach others how to fly. I took a big step towards this on the 21st July in performing my first solo flight without an instructor, in other words there was no Plan B, and I loved it. I’ve since racked up one and a half hours of solo flying time and I can’t wait to add more. Nifty plaque from my flying club to celebrate:



With a bit more spare time than usual, I’m keen to update this blog a tad more frequently than once a year! I plan to document the launch of Things Click, buying an apartment in Barcelona, and the remainder of my pilots license training.

Read More

Artificial deadlines for the win

When I’m under pressure I produce some of my best work. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the amount of pressure I’m under, and my ability to remove noise from my brain and see a clear path through to a desired end result. It is useful to understand this brain trait and apply it in scenarios when I might otherwise not be as focused as I would like.

So it made an awful lot of sense that I would thrive in a startup environment.  When I started my first business Atlas, a software house, I was under pressure to get everything done yesterday so that my co-founder and I could earn a living and stop eating into our modest savings. I was wearing dozens of hats including sales person, developer, bookkeeper, admin, and chief tea maker and I thrived.  When times got tough I simply increased the number of hours I worked in order to stay on top of everything but the focus was always there (note: I’m not saying I was working efficiently what with all the context switching, but I definitely made progress through brute force and determination).

Slowly, without noticing, the pressure and buzz of the startup that we had created started to subside, and I found myself being able to think and plan a month ahead, then three months ahead, and then a year ahead.  We hired staff to take the admin and minutiae of running the business away from me and slowly but surely the noise crept back in as the day to day pressure receded.  I effectively took the approach of firing myself from as many roles in the business as possible.  At the point where I was no longer permitted access to our source code repository I felt about as welcome as a hedgehog at a bouncy castle party, and started to miss the pressure that drove me forward in our earlier years.  It became harder to focus, and I could find myself leaving the office not feeling like I had achieved much at all.

Then a couple of  years ago on New Years Eve a friend of mine who had been thinking about moving back to Canada decided he could no longer put it off and booked one way tickets for July that year. He was committed, and had a fixed deadline of seven months that was an immovable object, and therefore all planning would have to work backwards from the date of the flight. I didn’t realise at the time but what he had done was created an artificial deadline which forced him to see something through.

I decided recently that this was a technique I could benefit from, and so created my own artificial deadline by booking flights to Barcelona (more on this here) where I would spend a month with my family living in a different city and remote working. Since setting this immovable date my output has increased exponentially. Now everything I do revolves around the deadline, and my focus is back as I ensure that the projects we’re working on and in particular my own products are in a state of readiness for my departure.

I think this is a useful technique to use, and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve leaving the country! For example, rather than spending the next few months working on that app in your spare time, how about booking a demonstration with some potential customers in 4 weeks’ time. You’ll be amazed how you can suddenly move mountains in order to ensure that you don’t embarrass yourself on the day.

Read More

Unwritten written rules to live by in 2012

There are a whole bunch of unwritten rules that I live by. I’m not referring to age old rules that haven’t stood the test of time such as “two wrongs don’t make a right”. I’m talking about actual day to day rules that I believe if everybody followed would literally make the world a brighter place. So, in my post Christmas partying haze I’ve decided to commit some of my unwritten rules to the Internet so that they’re no longer unwritten and maybe just one other person will read this and join me in my self-righteous endeavours:

  1. Never break more than two laws at once
    Laws are sometimes broken, just not all of them at once okay?
  2. When you’re about to change direction in your car and there is more than one possible path your car can take, INDICATE!
    Yes, indicate like your life depends on it, and then the rest of us won’t be sat wasting our time attempting to second guess where you’re heading you moron
  3. When you’re approaching somebody in the street and a head on collision is imminent, step to the right!
    Nothing is worse than an awkward public dance with a complete stranger.
  4. Always be a little kinder than necessary.
    This particular quote is from our friend James Barrie, author of Peter Pan.  It’s simple really; people like nice people.  Unless you’re Alan Sugar or Donald Trump if you’re an arsehole don’t expect to get far in life; and you wouldn’t want to be either of them anyway right?
  5. Google is the most useful thing ever. If you need to know something, type that shit in on Google instead of wasting people’s time.
    You can pretty much Google anything.
  6. Say thank you.  Better still, if you can muster up the courage to pay somebody a compliment then do so.
    Manners maketh man and all that.  Not only that, you might just make somebody’s day.
  7. Two e-mails is enough.
    If you haven’t bottomed out your conversation in two e-mails pick up the phone, life is too short.

So there you have it.  Feel free to add or correct my rules in the comments, and in the meantime if you’ve read this far thank you and here’s to an awesome 2012 for everybody.

Read More


Hi, my name is Simon.  I run a business or two.

I originally used for my personal website but as with all content management systems it was too restrictive and didn’t give me a good enough platform upon which to moan – which let’s face it makes up 90% of the content on the Interwebs.

For example, today a large number of people are moaning that Amazon EC2 is down.  The cloud rained down a shit storm of pain on a wide range of businesses just when everybody thought cloud computing was infallible.

Anyway – welcome, check back often.  I plan to update fairly regularly with business insights, tips, tricks and generally leave a trail behind me as I move forward in my quest for world domination success.

While you’re here why not follow me on Twitter?

Read More