How I Stay Productive: Matthew Brown

Next up in our ‘How I Stay Productive’ series, we’ve got one of our own Productivity Ninjas, Matthew Brown. In his interview, Matthew doesn’t just inspire us to Stress Less but he also gives us a nice insight into his daily routines, which, spoiler alert, does include a daily nap. 

Productivity Ninja in Interview



Occupation: Productivity Ninja

Company: Think Productive

Location: London and thereabouts

Other job titles in life: Flaneur, Percussionist





What’s important about your workspace?

I work from home most of the time, so that offers some challenges. First of all, I need to be a loooong way from the fridge, for obvious reasons. Second, I need to be able to peer through the window at the guinea pigs – Patch, The Scruffmeister and Gerald – as they go about their business in their run in the garden.  They usually glare back at me reproachfully, and this provides a spur to stop looking out of the window and Actually Do Some Work.

How I Stay Productive

Which ninja characteristic have you got nailed the most?

Lethargy. It took me a while, but I think I’ve nailed it now. For the longest time, I thought my workplace was my PC and my work was bashing away at it.  It was only when I became a Productivity Ninja five years ago that I realized that very little of actual value and impact happens at the PC.  It happens when you’re thinking, strategizing, having brilliant ideas, etc.  When was the last time anyone had a brilliant idea while looking at their PC?..  Hmmm?…

So I ensure that I have scheduled intervals of Lethargy over the course of the day.  The first one happens shortly after lunch when I have a post-postprandial nap.  Ten minutes is enough to recharge the little grey cells.  Returning to work, post-nap, feels like a new day.

How I Stay Productive

The second interval of lethargy occurs at 6pm. Working from home requires strong boundaries. We don’t want the work-y stuff leaking into the home-y stuff, do we?  So I ensure a clear demarcation by removing myself to the Two Brewers for a contemplative pint of Sixpenny Handley Best Bitter and a bag of nuts.  I don’t really commune much with my fellow imbibers. I muse.  Sometimes I ponder. Or stew – on the cruelties of the world, the remedies that may be available and our role in bringing these remedies to fruition.  Then I go home for the home-y stuff, having pondered, processed and locked away the day.

Which ninja characteristic are you still working on the most?

Preparedness.  Small confession: whilst my personal productivity is excellent, my personal preparedness is non-existent. I don’t really prepare for anything. I leave all sorts of important stuff to the last minute. Always. And I tell myself that this is because I am an artiste, and to behave otherwise would be to betray my gift.  I know this is a lie.

Ninja Preparedness

Which five apps could you not live without?

Well, I could live without all of them; they’re just technology.  But I find the following useful:

  1. The Daily Telegraph for iPad –  Always nice to have one’s rabid prejudices confirmed in electronic format.
  2. The Spectator for iPad – Same as 1 above really, and the writing is outstanding. It’s worth the price of entry for the Low Life and High Life columns alone.
  3. Ted Talks – As part of my morning routine I watch a Ted Talk a day.  Always good.
  4. Pocket Informant –  A fabulous combined Calendar and Task Management app. I have used it as my “second brain” for years, and it just gets better and better.
  5. Yelp – I often find myself in a strange town for work reasons and it’s a great way to locate decent grub or pub.

What’s your favorite piece of stationery?

I have had a steel-barreled Montblanc fountain pen for twenty years. It is immaculately crafted, writes like a dream and always elicits admiration when produced. Also – and this is not a detail – it makes you slow down as you write, and take care.

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

Morning. I schedule all my mental heavy-lifting for the morning. I know I’m effectively brain dead in the afternoon, so I just aim to do admin-y type stuff after lunch.  Work stops at 5:59pm.  No exceptions.

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

Well, I’m rarely tired during the day but I do sometimes struggle to get down to work.  That’s usually because there’s something in my head that I’m not addressing.  So I pause the work, address the un-addressed thing, decide what’s to be done, stick that in my second brain, then get back to work.

What’s your best advice for reducing stress?

Well, I don’t think people should be stressed by work.  I can’t remember who said it, but “if you don’t like the way your life is, change it; you’re not a tree”.  So, if you hate your job, screw it, get a new one.

What’s your email regime?

I don’t spend too much time on email.  I have unsubscribed from pretty much everything – newsletters, LinkedIn and all that nonsense.  I also find that the more email you send, the more you get, so I tend to call clients, rather than email. In answer to your question, then, I process down to zero (twenty minutes) at 09:00, 12:00 and 17:00. I don’t look at email before work, after work or at weekends.

How to Tackle Your Inbox

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

Well, a nap is always good.  Alternatively, I will go to my shed and potter for a bit.  I have also recently been focusing on absorbing activities.  Drawing.  Laying floorboards. Ironing. Tinkering with motorcycles. Making jam. Etc.

What’s the secret to your productivity?

I don’t know really. Maybe the idea that work is just not important enough to get stressed about; what matters is what happens when you’re not working.  This perspective enables me, I hope, to do the bare minimum amount of work consistent with a satisfying lifestyle.

Got any more questions for Matthew? Leave them in the comments section below.
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