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Two and a half words that will improve your productivity

21 Jun 2013 | Mind monkeys

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.”

“Written 5 chapters, but there’s 20 more to do.”

“I’m excited, but I’m scared.”

“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 cr*p.

‘But’ has an 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 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.”

“Written 5 chapters, and 20 more to do.”

“I’m excited and I’m scared.”

“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. 5 down, 20 to go – progress all the way. I’m excited and scared – it’s ok to be both. 99 right and 1 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, that “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 procrastination is something you do, not who you are.

We can all do procrastination. How do you do yours? What do you say to yourself or 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 / 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…

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 snap shot 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.

Over to you. What words help or hinder your productivity? I’d love to know. Add your voice to the comments below.


  1. tubblog

    Great article Grace – the step of using “And” instead of “But” is simple yet powerful! That said, do you have any advice on how I can build this into a habit and start using it consistently?

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Richard! The first step of building or breaking habits is mindfulness – simply noticing. Set your radar for ‘but’ and notice when you can make a change to ‘and’. Sometimes it’s easier to pick it up in your writing first, scan your tweets, FB updates and emails, then when you catch yourself writing or saying ‘but’, replace it with ‘and’ and notice how that feels. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Have fun!

      • tubblog

        Thanks Grace – mindfulness is needed! I’ll let you know how I get on!

  2. naomirichards

    I know all about and and but as I mentioned it in my book but the am and ing is new to me. I am going to start using it – thank you Grace

    • Grace Marshall

      You’re welcome Naomi – I’ve found the am vs doing is especially useful for kids too. Enjoy and let me know how you get on!


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Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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