How I Stay Productive: Lee Cottier

This week we are extra excited to share with you our latest How I Stay Productive interview, with our very own Productivity Ninja, Lee Cottier. Time to see how a Think Productive Ninja walks the talk. 

How Productivity Ninjas Stay Productive

About Lee

Occupation: Productivity Ninja

Company: Think Productive

Location: Bristol (or alternatively on a train, or overnighting in a Premier Inn).

Other job titles in life: Dad



What’s important about your workspace?

That it’s NOT in my house.  I’m envious of people who get work stuff done at home, and I know that it can work really well for some people – but I’ve never been able to pull it off successfully.

So when I’m not travelling, at client sites, or Think Productive’s head office in Brighton I work out of the Desklodge coworking space in Bristol. It’s one of the most important strategies I use to keep an effective divide between “on-duty” and “off-duty”.  If I’m away from home the same Neardesk card I use for Desklodge allows me to pop in and work by the hour or day at a ton of cool places.  I’ve also used local Regus Business Lounges.  Both options are much better for me than trying to fight for a quiet space in a coffee shop!

Which ninja characteristic have you got nailed the most?

It’s always a work in progress, but for the last few years I’ve been working really hard on “Human not Superhero”.  A lot of the bigger habits I have established like NOT working at home, being ruthless with email/connectivity out of hours and going on regular retreats/recharge breaks are part of my personal focus on “Human not Superhero”.

Productivity Ninja Not Superhero

But this is worked on in smaller habits too.  For instance in my work I travel a lot on trains and I see lots of people working on their laptops late into the evening while they cross the country.  I’ll do that if I happen to be travelling in office hours, but if you see me on a train before 9am or after 5pm then I’ll be reading my Kindle or watching something on iPlayer.  Using out of hours travel time as rest time is a good Ninja dodge.

Which ninja characteristic are you still working on the most?

For the last couple of years I have been working hard on both “Stealth and Camouflage” and “Mindfulness”.  Once strategy where I have been combining the two has been regular full-on silent retreats.  3-4 weekends each year I go completely unplugged.  I‘ve been on retreat with Zen practitioners, Buddhists, a couple of stays at a Benedictine Monastery, with Quakers, and at secular retreats.  There’s nothing like 3 days of complete silence, simple food, no internet, zero electronics, no reading materials and no music to really help you unplug, decompress and get perspective.  Others might be reading this and find that prospect terrifying, but for me it’s a luxury.

Which five apps could you not live without?

I can only pick five?!  Uuugh, OK.

  • Podcast Addict – I listen to a lot of podcasts while on trips.
  • Garmin Connect – using a step tracker got really obsessive in the early days, but I have relaxed into it now.
  • Guardian Newspaper
  • Clear Focus – a Pomodoro Timer.
  • ToDoist – for mobile access to my second brain.

What’s your favourite piece of stationery?

I’ve used the same make and model of pen for nearly 20 years.  Obviously I have to keep buying replacements.  But if they ever stop making this I’ll be in trouble as writing with anything else seems wrong.
Also, notebook of choice: Moleskine (Hardcover, Black 8.25” x 5” Squared Paper).  Obviously.

How I Stay Productive

When in the day do you have the most proactive attention?

I’m definitely a morning person.  I get SOOO much more done before noon (and in fact in the first half of the morning) than I do in the afternoon.  Creative stuff and anything requiring heavy lift thinking gets scheduled for the morning, the afternoon is for admin and drone tasks.

What’s your trick for when you’re tired or struggling with attention in the day?

Don’t drive on without noticing what your brain and body are telling you.  You’ll only crash completely.  Go get yourself food, water, air etc.  Go for a walk, change workstation etc.  In DeskLodge’s coworking space I get loads of options to move around.  Coming back to a change of perspective/view after your break helps you break inertia and restart.

What’s your best advice for reducing stress?

Walking.  Lots and lots of walking.  I average 500k steps per month on my Garmin.  When business travelling I will walk when I can rather than get a taxis from stations to client sites etc.  When working in Bristol it’s 5km from my in town office to home.  As well as helping me get my steps target it allows for “mental decompression” on that stroll home, so that your body and brain arrive home together.

What’s your email regime?

As you might expect I’m pretty ruthless about this, given we train people on these techniques.  I keep work and life emails separately on Outlook and Gmail.  No notification pings of any kind on either desktop or mobile.  I have just text message notifications routing from my phone to a silent vibrate and on screen preview on my Garmin watch.  The family and office that that’s how they alert me of an emergency so I don’t feel the need to keep peeking on my phone to “just check everything is OK”.  Absolutely no checking/sending work emails outside of office hours.  I’ve even been known to delete the Outlook app off my phone at weekends, and always do that when going on holiday, to help protect against peeking temptation.  When in the office my default processing schedule is 10 minutes at the top of every hour, and in between I progress non-email work.  If I am working on a big task that requires lots of concentration/creativity I will de-email for longer.

What’s your favourite way to take a break in the middle of the day?

See above.  Walking.  Those steps won’t do themselves!

What’s the secret to your productivity?

Create the right environment (mental and physical) for good work.  Put in place what you need to help you do your best work – using all aspects of the Productivity Ninja armory.  But also remember to look after yourself and those that matter to you.  Be realistic about what you can do.  Pace yourself.  “Human not Superhero”.


Do you have a follow up question for Lee? Leave a comment below or tweet us @thinkproductive

This post was really helpful for me. I am new to this and have just finished the productivity ninja book and started using my second brain. I was wondering there is a forum or Q&A place for some of the techniques as I have a few things I am stuck on.

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