Two-and-a-half words that will improve your productivity

Grace Marshall — №26 with Evan Carmichael

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a word geek. I love language. And I notice language a lot. Friends and clients will testify to that.

I’m trying to teach my son the art of speaking persuasively, especially when his little sister is being particularly annoying. Yes, he’s perfectly entitled to say, “Get out the way,” but “Excuse me please” or “Can you come this way?” is likely to be met with less resistance.

In the same way, the words we use with ourselves can affect our own levels of resistance and motivation.

Here are two-and-a-half little words that can affect your productivity, amongst other things:


“I’m confident at what I do, but running a business/networking/public speaking is all new to me.”

“Website’s lovely, but the font’s too small.”

“I’ve written five chapters, but there’s 20 more to do.”

“I’m excited, but I’m scared.”

“I had 99 happy customers this week, but one complained.”

Notice how “but” changes the tone of the story? We have good news … yay! But there’s bad news … oh, crap.

“But” has the effect of negating whatever came before. Good news gives way to bad news. Confident becomes not confident. Praise gets overshadowed by criticism. Progress leads to being stuck. Done gets replaced by not done. Excited is overwhelmed by scared.

Replace “but” with “and”

“I’m confident at what I do, and running a business/networking/public speaking is all new to me.”

“Website’s lovely, and the font could be bigger.”

“I’ve written five chapters, and there’s 20 more to do.”

“I’m excited and I’m scared.”

“I had 99 happy customers and one complaint this week.”

Notice the difference? Both parts of the sentence can exist alongside each other and have equal weight. In fact, the positive statement lends itself to the rest.

I’m confident and this is new. This is great, and this is how it can be even better. This is what I’ve done and this is what I’m working on. Five down, twenty to go – progress all the way. I’m excited and scared – it’s ok to be both. Ninety-nine right and one wrong – we did well and what can we improve?

Try it! Notice what happens when you say “and” instead of “but.”

“Am” vs. “doing”

I’ve blogged about this before: the phrase “I am” speaks to our identity. It feels permanent, part of who we are.

“I’m doing” describes an action, something we are taking part in, at this moment in time, which is temporary and detachable.

So when clients say to me, “I’m a terrible procrastinator,” I remind them that procrastination is something you do, not who you are.

We can all procrastinate. How do you? What do you say to yourself or say out loud? What actions do you busy yourself with? What goes through your mind? What do you imagine? Where do you allow your attention to go?

Once we know what we’re doing, it becomes much easier to decide what to do differently.


So often we focus on what’s done and what’s not done. What about the stuff in between? What about the work we’re actually doing?

My friend Jenny Flintoft once asked me, “What are you working on?”

“How’s business?” would have prompted a static answer: great, good, ok, not bad, could be better, awful, or don’t ask!

“What are you working on?” prompted a much more enthusiastic response. “Well, I’m putting together a … and it’s really exciting because … I’m still working out …. and I’m looking forward to launching it in …”

Progress isn’t static. So much of what we do is work in progress. Building a business, raising a family, growing in confidence, etc.

So what are you working on? What are you creating? Where are you growing? What are you building on? What are you reaching? What are you celebrating? What seeds are you sowing? What harvest are you reaping? What results are you seeing?

And when you do take a snapshot and review what is done and complete, where is that leading you?

If you want the momentum and flow of being “in progress,” make sure your language has plenty of “-ing” in it.

Photo: Flickr / Gerard Stolk (vers la Chandeleur) CC BY-NC 2.0

Grace marshall

Grace Marshall

Grace Marshall is a naturally disorganised productivity coach, mum of two, and author of 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time. She is also a productivity ninja with Think Productive, one of the UK’s leading productivity training companies, helping organizations across the world survive information overload and get more done with less stress.

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