Gardening for happiness

A young woman was dissatisfied with her garden. She didn’t find it pretty.

One day, she stumbled upon the local garden centre and went inside.

Hearing her unhappiness, the garden centre employee proposed: “Why don’t you add some flowers?”

So the young lady bought roses and begonias, daffodils to plant and many other varieties of colourful flowers. She went home and planted them and waited a while, but even when all the flowers were in bloom, she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.


Some time later, she went back to the garden-centre. A new employee suggested flowers and the young lady explained what she had already planted. In reply, the new employee said: “Perhaps you could put a bench and some other furniture and ornaments?”

So the young lady bought a bench, an ornamental watering can, some solar-lighting and many other things to fill up her garden. She went home and put everything in place, sat back and looked at her new garden. But she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.


In despair, she drove back to the garden centre the next day, only to find it shut. As she walked back to her car, she stumbled upon a little old lady and explained her situation. She told how she didn’t find her garden pretty, how dissatisfied she was and all she had done with the flowers and the ornamental furtniture.

The lady replied: “Why don’t you try a little weeding ?”



5 Modern Day Stresses To Avoid At All Cost

We live in a fast-moving, ever-changing VUCA world. Stress, depression and burnout symptoms are more apparent than ever before. Our long lives are filled with all sorts of stress. Fortunately, the 5 things listed here are easy to avoid…



I have a friend who is always staying up late (working). He is overweight, smoking and tired. A little more sleep would change his world.

The physiological effects of sleep deprivation are numerous, ranging from yawning and minor irritability to confusion and depression …passing by headache and obesity. How much sleep does an adult need?

  • According to the American National Sleep Foundation, a sufficient amount of sleep is defined as “a sleep duration that is followed by a spontaneous awakening and leaves one feeling refreshed and alert for the day”.
  • Simple and quick research suggests that 7-9 hours between the hours of 8pm and 8am is about right
  • In his book “The 4 Hour Body“, Tim Ferris says that these common sleep patterns are not always what is needed. The minimum effective dose of sleep is what gives us enough REM sleep and physical rest over a 24 hour period. It really doesn’t matter if you get that in one go or in several smaller sleeps (regular polyphasic sleep or just an occasional good old fashioned siesta).
  • A 1 hour reduction in sleep on one night (compared to your average) is all it takes to creep into the effects of deprivation.



As a general rule, if you are wondering if you sleep enough, you probably don’t.

  • Tip number 1 = go to bed just a little bit earlier 🙂
  • Tip number 2 = turn off your alarm when you can. Some highly productive people set their alarms even when they don’t need to, as if it were a sin to sleep in. Don’t. Let your body wake you up when it wants to.
  • Tip number 3 = try a mini-siesta. If you have 10 minutes during the day, jump in bed. If you are at work, nip out from the office to your car, or just put your head on your desk for 10 minutes. Even if you don’t sleep, its better than nothing.




Although productive and efficient people consider multi-tasking to be a strength, the risks of today’s most classic multi-tasked tasks are enormous:



  • Tip number 1 = Try doing one thing at a time for just one day and see how it goes.
  • Tip number 2 = The next time you have to chop vegetables or vacuum the house, try a little mindfulness. Concentrate fully on what you are doing, instead of rushing to get to the next job. And don’t listen to music for once. Even if you think that’s boring, focus on the movements and actions you are actually doing.




The use of smartphones continues to rise at a crazy rate:



If you, like me, love your smartphone, follow these eye-gonomics tips from The Vision Council:

  • Tip number 1 = Take regular breaks
  • Tip number 2 = Maintain an appropriate distance
  • Tip number 3 = Remember to blink!



TOO MUCH TV If you don’t use a smartphone or computer all day, you might feel like its OK to watch as much TV as you do. But how much are you watching? According to AC Nielsen, the average Americans watches 4 hours a day. That’s 1460 hours a year. And if you start at 16 years old and live to 80, that’s 11 years over a life time ! And according to a study by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) referenced in the Independent, the average Brit is watching more TV than ever.



  • If you watch TV every night, make a promise that for just one night this week you will do something else. Read a book, play a game or just go to bed.
  • Watch a movie. Pick a short one, but watch a DVD, turn on the TV just before a film starts or watch something you have recorded. Anything to be sure there is a finite start and end time.
  • Stop watching TV series that never end. If you are “on” season 6, this is a good sign it is going nowhere!




Food. Houses. Cars. Special offers. We always seem to supersize our purchases. I think this is a modern-day sickness, based on our ever-evolving obsession with growth and instant gratification.

In the comedy-drama-documentary “Supersize Me” (2004) Morgan Spurlock looked at the impact of this phenomenon by only eating McDonalds for one month. No surprises for guessing the result: Yep – fatty fast food leads to fatty slow body!

Supersizing your house might seem like a great way to have more space, but it doesn’t last long. Before you know it you are filling every space with more and more stuff you don’t need. This blog from the New York Times discusses how accumulating things doesn’t make you happy.



  • Tip number 1 = Don’t take the extra size up because you can. The marketeers know that by offering more for a relatively lower price, you are more likely to buy. But 3 for the price of 2 doesn’t mean you needed the extra one.
  • Tip number 2 = Take some time to reassess what is essential for you. What is the 20% of your house that you are most spending time in and why do you need the other 80% ? For some good ideas, check out this wiki post on how to downsize your home.
  • Tip number 3 = Eat more slowly. How many chips do you actually need to eat to be full up?



That’s it. Just stop it. Get some sleep, stop multi-tasking, turn off the screens and stay small. Easy!


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Turn horrible text driven PowerPoint slides into awesome big bold visual messages

During Presentation Skills training, we learn all about the 4 pillars of an effective presentation: Message, Structure, Content and Style. In content and style, we also look at how visual supports are used to support and message and speech: What would be the minimum effective dose when it comes to discussing a certain topic? Is a chart a better way of showing growth than a table? Should I add some images to my PowerPoint? And what kind of visual style should I use?

In my other post “9 PowerPoint Essentials for Real Business People”, I listed some very simple pointers for fixing PowerPoint slides. In this post, I develop one PPT slide example to show how we can turn bad text-driven slides into awesome big bold visual messages…


First, let’s look at the original slide in question:


This slide comes from a PPT deck in support of a presentation explaining how a particular bandage is better than another. One of the primary reasons is because this bandage doesn’t hurt when being taken off an abrasion-injury…


What’s wrong with this slide?

If you appreciate the 9 PPT Guidelines then its clear:

  • There’s too much text
  • The title is bad
  • The colour contrast is not effective
  • Its not very visual


Let’s see what we can do. First, to get to the minimum effective dose of text, take out anything that doesn’t have power (that’s why they call it PowerPoint, after all!):

  • Look for what words carry the structural and content “weight”
  • Take out useless prepositions (if, by, and, of…) and articles (a, the, an…)


You might end up with something like this…


That’s already a lot better!


One the ideas I like a lot about PowerPoint is Vinod Kholsa’s 5 second rule – if you can’t tell what a slide is about in 5 seconds, then its not good enough. A good next step to helping solve that is to add a message-driven title that actually says something. Try this:


3, in the context of the greater presentation, we know immediately what this slide is about. What next?


Personally, I think a better colour contrast on PowerPoint slides makes a big difference to how physically easy it is to look at something and how aesthetically pleasing it can be. Keep the following in mind:

  • Contrast is important to create good easy readability: Be sure to have light on dark or vice-versa
  • Your eye will focus on whatever is brightest. This means that a bright white background is going to get all your attention… that is tiring and leads to headache. Better to have a dark background…
  • …but if you do that, bear in mind that your printing costs will be higher. Consider having a dark-background for the wall and a white background for the handout.


Here is the new improved contrast version:


…immediately much better. Of course, don’t forget to customise your colours to suit the company branding, or your marketing guys will be really unhappy !


OK – its getting better. We are close to the minimum (maybe…) but its not very visual. A visual slide will work much better for the majority of people.

Here’s some basic guidelines for getting visual:

  • Avoid old boring dodgy clipart – we’ve all seen it all before and it doesn’t make you look clever!
  • Don’t draw things yourself unless you want to be “quirky” (like I did here) or you’re a really good artist
  • Don’t opt for the first results you find in Google – chances are everyone else already used that as well
  • Make sure your images are high quality – use the “other sizes” link bottom-right underneath Google thumbnail images to find better quality pictures
  • If you are going to steal copyright (which I know you wouldn’t do…), don’t take the image with a watermark for copyright on it. It just looks lazy.
  • If you are talking about numbers, pimp your table (blog-post to follow), use one of the right 4 chart types (blog post also to follow) or maybe even consider just showing an image which tells the story without reverting to numbers (you can put the numbers in a handout)


In this slide, the presenter added in an image that really shows you what he means by abrasions:


…but he kind of just slapped it on there without thinking. #Fail


Where should you put images when there is text on the slide?

Answer = left of the text block. Why? Its simple, because it lines up more nicely to the text block, like here:



Now, there are exceptions to this rule and the above example is not finished yet, so bear with me…

If you have text which is justified to the right, then of course you could line your image up better on the right. And if you have just a few bullet points that can be creatively placed to line up better, go for it. Click here to see one of my own examples.


In the slide above, the image is in the right place, but it is not looking beautiful yet. I think it would be much better to increase the size of the image to match with the size of the text block, like here:



Personally, I think we’ve come a long way from our original text-driven slide. We have gotten rid of a load of text, we’ve made more contrast and added a message-driven image, which is in the right place. Some people would stop here and depending on your style, that might be the right choice.


But personally, in terms of minimum effective dose (within the greater framework of the entire PPT) we can do a lot better.

First, let’s get bold with that image:


Hurts to look at? It should! That’s the point!


..but hang on a minute: The text says that an example of an abrasion is road-rash or something you get from sports + play, that’s its a superficial wound, that it hurts and that its prone to infection. Doesn’t the image already say all that? Wouldn’t the following do just the same?


For some people, this is too much. For me, it really is the minimum effective dose. For me, its an awesome big bold visual message.


The advantages of awesome big bold visual messages are many:

  • It will be understood more quickly by the majority of people
  • It will stick in people’s heads a little bit longer (certainly in THIS example!)
  • It will oblige you to talk around your point instead of reading from the slide
  • People will think you are awesome 🙂


Thanks for reading – I hope this helped

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Happy Christmas 🙂



MED – today’s most important effectiveness principle

I went to the doctor the other month with a headache and he hit over the head with a plank of wood. Wrong solution. Made things worse.

I went to another and he gave me 500mg of Ibuprofen. Right solution, but not enough to calm the symptoms.

I went to third doctor and he prescribed 1kilogram of Ibuprofen. I spent 1 month in hospital getting over it.

A final doctor told me that what I needed was the minimum effective dose: The right amount of the right stuff to get the desired results. Not less, not more and not something else.


In all things effectiveness, leadership and communication, its the same story. I’ll take a presentation as an example:

  • Don’t use a table when a graph would be better. Don’t give technical facts when a story would be easier to understand.
  • Make sure you give enough content to make your point
  • ..but not so much as to send them to sleep (or the hospital if it’s really bad!)


Minimum Effective Dose, introduced to me by Tim Ferriss in his great book “The Four Hour Body”, is THE guiding principle for personal effectiveness, leadership and communication.

Ask yourself (always):

  • What MUST I have/say/do/be to get what I want?
  • What is “just a bit more” with no real impact, or worse still: negative impact?
  • What is the RIGHT WAY to get what I want?
  • What approach would not be appropriate?


Are you doing the MED right now?

How can you apply the MED principle to your own work?



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Authentic Learning in “The Guardian”

In the film “The Guardian” with Kevin Costner, there is a nice example of Authentic Learning which highlights the Minimum Effective Dose principle I wrote about in my initial blog post on the subject.


Costner’s character Randall is due to teach the effects of hypothermia to students of the US Coast Guard “A” school. At class time, his colleagues eventually track him down not in the classroom, but in the swimming pool. Randall is seen shovelling ice into an extremely cold small pool. Everyone is shivering away; to the side, one student is doing CPR on a test-dummy.


Randall’s commanding officer calls him out of the pool and asks: “Why wasn’t I informed of this? You know, we have classrooms.”   … adding “Your assignment is to simply teach the stages of hypothermia”


Randall replies (with a shiver): “Sir …. in about 2 and a half minutes, they’ll understand”


Understanding is not knowing, or being able to recite the facts. Understanding is understanding. Teaching Coast Guard swimmers the facts in a classroom does not deliver the Minimum Effective Dose for understanding hypothermia. This Authentic Learning approach does.


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Make a presentation in 5 steps (5): Content

There are lots of different types of presentation content and its important to treat it all well. Focus on the minimum effective dose. This post explains how.

(If you haven’t aleady seen the overview blog-spot for making effective presentations, read this first)


Develop content in order to deliver the minimum effective dose

Now it is time to create the content for your presentation – if you are like most people, this will either mean copy/pasting from previous presentations or putting in everything you know about the topic and then cutting out as much as necessary to make it fit into the time slot you have been given. Try applying the lessons in this blog-spot instead!


First of all: Don’t grab everything and then cut out in order to be on time or be less boring – you have to think about BUILDING your presentation up instead of cutting down from your 100% knowledge of the topic. Concentrate on the minimum effective dose!


The minimum effective dose is a concept I first read about in the book “The 4 Hour Body” from Tim Ferriss. This book has nothing to do with presentation skills! It is written by Tim Ferriss, the author of “4 Hour Work Week” which has some really great principles on lifestyle design and being effective. Tim has a great blog  site with lots of good information, links and references…

The basic principle of the minimum effective dose is this: The smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome.

(If you want to read an excerpt from Tim Ferriss’ book on the minimum effective dose and its history in body-building and how it applies to getting a tan, read here!)


In your presentations (and everything else) anything more than the minimum  effective dose (of content) is waste. Adding more content willl:

  • Not create understanding and even detract from your key message
  • Create confusion by drowning people in details
  • Use time unneccessarily
  • Bore people


Note that there are 2 concepts at play here: “minimum” and “effective”. This means you must not have more than necessary and that what you choose to share must be (in itself) effective.

To avoid the problems noted above, ask yourself the 5 following questions in order to create the minimum effective dose of content:

  1. What must people understand in order to get the message?
  2. Which methods, media and ideas will be most effective in passing across the message?
  3. If I could only present 3 things to get my message across, what would they be?
  4. What have I included that is unnecessary?
  5. If I didn’t give all the details myself, what tools/references/resources could I point out so that the audience can continue without me?


The minimum effective dose can be applied to the speech you make, the slides you create, the way you talk to other people, exercises, content of training programmes etc etc…

I hope this helped. If you followed the 5 steps you should have a nice overview of how to build up effective presentations.

Good luck!


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