Expertise

Not Evangelism

Friday, December 31, 2010

My Pen Ran Out

...ran out of ink, that is. I exhausted the ink cartridge, I mean.

And I don't mean that I emptied one of those mean little fountain pen cartridges that last five or six minutes. This cartridge was the slender refill in my Cross ballpoint.

When I wrote about the environmentalism of pens, and the act of using a pen until the ink ran out, it didn't occur to me that I'd be in that situation quite so soon.

It's a pleasing situation to be in, having used something up completely; it's like realising the full potential of the ink cartridge. Kind of like using a chicken carcass to make stock or soup once the meat has been picked from the bones. Nothing is wasted. I like that. There's a sense of completeness, too, of finality.

I suppose, on reflection, I could have guessed that the skinny Cross refills would not last as long as the slightly portlier Parker or Faber-Castell refills. But the Cross has been my every day work pen for the last couple of years, so I've had a good run out of it. It's an uneven comparison, but I'll be interested to see how much longer the refills from the other manufacturers last.

I'll also be interested to see how long the new Cross refill lasts. That said, my replacement refill has a medium nib (the original had a fine nib) so may not last as long as the original. It's a curious thought, that a fine nib pen is somehow better value - less wasteful - than one with a thicker nib.

So I have a fresh ink cartridge for a fresh new year. What perfect timing.

Related articles:

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Cycling Year: 2010

Well the numbers are in, and I have commuted 1015 miles on my bike this year.

The month-on-month breakdown is as follows:

January72 miles (3 times)
February72 miles (3 times)
March134 miles (6 times)
April121 miles (5.5 times)
May132 miles (6 times)
June0 miles
July66 miles (3 times)
August88 miles (4 times)
September154 miles (7 times)
October110 miles (5 times)
November66 miles (3 times)
December0 miles
Total1015 miles

Note: My commute is around 11 miles long, but at the start of the year I was doing a 12 mile route that included a half mile stretch on a busy dual carriageway. People told me I was crazy to do it, although I had no problems. That said, I am much happier with the shorter, quieter route on an almost-traffic-free bridleway.

Analysis

April was a good month; I'm surprised I managed to cycle commute as much as I did, not least because I was on Jury service for nearly 2 weeks, and not cycling into the office during that time.

June was less good. My son had just been born, and I had two weeks of paternity leave where I wasn't commuting at all. In the second half of the month, and into July, I decided that it was more important to be able to get home quickly to support my wife than it was to cycle commute. I kind of feel that's closer to an excuse than a reason, but I'm satisfied with my choice.

I'm surprised that September turned out to be the month with the biggest number of miles. I suspect I had done some arithmetic and realised that unless I got on with it, I wasn't going to make my target of the big 1000.

In December, a combination of annual leave and heavy snowfall meant that I didn't cycle at all; the office was closed for three days because of the snow. I missed it.

Final thoughts

On balance, I'm well pleased; my target was to complete 1000 miles on the bike. As one friend pointed out, that's the length of the End-to-End of the British Isles, from Land's End to John O'Groats. It's a nice, round number, a satisfying number.

On the other hand, it's a long way from an epic achievement.

In all, I've cycle commuted 47.5 times (the half comes from driving in and cycling home, or vice versa, a pleasant compromise between all-out bike commuting and all-out driving). On average, that's only about once a week, allowing for annual leave and time away from the office. In other words around 20-25% of my annual commuting mileage was on my bike. That's not bad, but it's still a minority; my goal is to cycle commute the majority of the time.

Oh, I could waste time justifying why I didn't cycle more, or I could celebrate the fact that, on average, one day a week, I didn't use my car. One day a week, I was out in the world, under the sky, feeling the wind in my face. One day a week I bookended my working day with exercise; my blood pumping, my legs moving. Travelling at a more gentle pace, I had the time to enjoy sunrises and sunsets. I chased those fleeting moments when everything came together and I was In The Zone, cycling the beautiful cadence.

That's more than I could have said the year before. That's enough, for 2010 at least.

In 2011, my goal is to double the number of times I cycle commute. I'm expecting it to be at least twice the fun.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Utensils and Ornaments: On Waste and Clutter

One of my personal principles is the reduction of avoidable waste.

I imagine that when many people think of waste, they think of rubbish, trash, effluent.  They might also think about things that are bought and paid for but not actually used.

The first sort of waste we might call byproduct waste; waste as a consequence of consumption. This sort of waste can usually be reduced - minimised, even - but not always avoided.  After all, bananas must be peeled, apples have cores that are not usually eaten. Sure, these particular things can be composted (that's another article) but they're examples of consequential waste.

The second type of waste - wasting something by not using it at all - is entirely avoidable - with planning, with careful, considered choices and decisions. Carrots that rot, unused because we bought too many (buy one, get one free!). Apples that lay wrinkled and forgotten in the fruit bowl because the easy-to-grab bag contained more than we eat in a week.

I think there's a third type of waste (in some ways a variation of the second type) in the form of clutter. Things bought for projects we haven't started, and likely never will. Impulse purchases that we turn out not to be what we want or need. And those unexpected presents of beauty products we never use (I'm not the only person that gets these, am I?).  They're all waste in the same way as leftover food; bought and paid for, but not used. They've lost their utility.

When Utensils Become Ornaments

I like to think that when something is not used, it becomes useless. To put it another way something unused stops being useful - a utensil - and becomes clutter - an ornament. Ornaments are time-consuming; they need dusting, protecting; they need effort. Or perhaps they're hidden away, forgotten about; in which case they stop being ornaments and become (even worse) junk.

I'd far rather have utensils than ornaments; things to be used as opposed to things to be looked at. I don't mean that I don't like art, because I do; the function of art - of pictures and paintings - is to be looked at. But things that are intended to be used - utensils - but which end up sitting on a shelf, waiting to used - these  that have become unintentional ornaments. Clutter.

Clutter is Sneaky Waste

Clutter is a sneaky kind of waste - lying around, waiting to be dusted, cluttering up the place. They're basically taking up space whilst they're waiting to be thrown out - because if I'm not using something, then I don't need it. Which means I've wasted time, money and effort on buying it, and I'm going to have to spend more time and effort getting rid of it. Not to mention the cost of producing it in the first place; cost that has no payback in use because it's just not getting used. Clutter is distracting, too, wasting mental effort and energy.

Another sneaky kind of waste is the stuff that's waiting for the right occasion, something saved for best (but best never comes). This is the Too Nice To Use kind of waste. Clothes often fall into this category, hiding in the wardrobe, waiting for the right occasion, or the day they will fit once again.

When I find something that has become an ornament in my life, I give myself two options: use it (and I mean really use it, regularly, not just some token effort every now and again). Or get rid of it; if I don't use something, then it needs to be passed on, recycled, re-purposed, disposed of. I give myself a little time to trial the decision; an amnesty, if you like. I look honestly, objectively, at my habits and make the decision: use it and keep it. Or get rid.

I like using something that is intended to be used. But I don't regret getting rid of genuine waste.

Christmas Clutter

The subject of waste and clutter is something I expect I'll be thinking about quite a lot over the next few days. I'm not a killjoy; I love the festival of giving that we celebrate at this time of year. But it can bring unwanted, unused gifts too. In these circumstances, I think it's possible to separate the intention of giving from the gift itself. Whether a present is a utensil or an ornament is a decision made by the receiver, not the giver.

But those decisions can be saved for the New Year. Whatever you give, whatever you get, I hope your Christmas doesn't bring you too many ornaments.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Last Ride of 2010

...has been and gone.  With this snow, and my Christmas plans, it seems unlikely I'll be doing any more cycling in 2010.

It's a strange, sad knowledge. I miss it already, having had a week away on holiday, and not cycled for what seems like ages.

Oh, I'm not ruling out the chance of a fun ride or two - a cheeky Boxing Day pootle, perhaps - but unless there's a dramatic and impressive thaw, there's currently little chance of a cycle commute this month.

We've not had the snow that bad here in semi-rural Wiltshire, but the 4 or 5 inches on quieter country roads is enough to make cycling a hazard - I know from first hand experience at the start of the year just what the roads are like in the snow and ice.

That's not to say I wouldn't have given it a try as I miss cycling more and more. Yes, if the mountain bike had a chain, I might have considered cycling last Friday. But frankly, I'm glad I didn't have the chance.

I might even have considered cycling today. But the conditions, whilst passable now, will not be passable later.

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Environmentalist at Christmas

Don't worry.  This isn't another of those ghastly "How to Have a Greener Christmas" articles.  No, that's your business.  I'm just sharing a few thoughts on how the so-called festive season poses a few challenges for those with environmental interests.  For me, it's about hanging on to my environmental principles in a holiday season that seems to be encouraging me to do quite the opposite.

The major part of my objection is to the waste. Christmas is not inherently wasteful any more than environmentalism is inherently frugal. but this time of year does seem to go hand in hand with indulgence, over-indulgence and excess. And Christmas waste - where value is somehow diluted or removed all together, from my perspective at least, comes in many forms.

Unnecessary presents (often over-packaged)

There's all those presents that people buy because they feel they ought to, but don't really know the person well enough to know what to get.  So we end up with "smellies" and bath sets - all boxed and be-ribboned and festooned with all sorts of "festive" packaging. Which is just so much waste.

And I don't really get those "Buy a Goat for a Village"-type presents, either.  Charity is a good and laudable thing, but it's becoming a commodity.  Buying a goat for a village as a present for someone is being charitable on their behalf. As if they can't do it themselves. You're giving someone your own feel-good factor. I don't understand it.

Vast Amounts of Food

Looking at the bulging cupboards at Christmas, it sometimes seems like we try and cram all our food treats into a few days, buying loads of different treats and stuffing ourselves with them.  Surely it's better to spread it out over a longer period; winter has a few weeks left in her after Christmas. And all that food - you know it - comes in a variety of distinctive seasonal packaging - even more unnecessary than usual, and adding no actual value; it's the same biscuits inside that festive wrapper.

Piles of Paper

All that wrapping! All those cards! Yes, I like shiny presents and brightly coloured packages as much as the next person.  But I deplore the piles of paper that are left after the festival of unwrapping.  And much as I love getting letters and cards, there's quite a lot of usually-not-recycled cards and envelopes.  I'm happy to receive what comes and make sure that I do recycle it when the time comes. But I'm left with a feeling of disquiet, a sense that there's a better way.

Recycled wrapping paper is hard to find. Oh, I've tried wrapping paper alternatives, attempting to be arty with brown kraft paper and string.  One year I saved my Sunday newspapers for weeks, choosing sheets by matching the article to the present and person.  With a bit of cunning visual association, I didn't need to use tags either.  It wasn't as much fun.

These days I've come to think of my presents as something to put under the tree and enjoy looking at for a week or two; a temporary art installation, as it were.  Wrapping at the eleventh hour on Christmas Eve somehow doesn't get as much value out of the wrapping paper. It's certainly less enjoyable.

And speaking of trees...

Christmas Trees

I love Christmas trees.  And I'm completely convinced of the benefits of a living tree rather than some plastic fabricated monstrosity.  I mean buying a locally-grown real tree - something with a root ball rather than a cut tree. But I'm quite aware of the arguments against planting non-native species, and the land set aside for it.

And even buying trees with rootballs I struggle to keep them alive for more than a couple of years. But when I see the discarded trees piled up in January I wonder that we couldn't do something better than chucking out so much over-priced firewood.

My Environmental Christmas

I'm no killjoy.  We all need some joy and celebration in these darker months.  I want to enjoy my Christmas, and live my principles at the same time. I'm going to keep doing the small things, shifting my Christmas gradually towards something more satisfying to my pragmatic environmentalist principles.

Last year, we bought a little wooden advent calendar that we can re-use from year to year, filling it with personalised treats.  I hope it becomes a family tradition. I'm going to keep trying to find locally-produced turkey, and make home-made crackers.

I like home-made presents too; jams and chutneys were honestly among some of the more delightful presents I've received in recent years.

For me Christmas is about spending time, slowing down a little and enjoying things a little more (or a lot more). It's about the personal touch; being with people because we want to, not because we ought to.

Step by baby step. Making Christmas what I want it to be. What will you be doing for your holiday season? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Related articles:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

User experience and email communications

Get your email communication strategy right

I've recently started getting email from Southern Railway, a train operating company serving the south of England. This is odd not least because I don't live in the area they serve, and I rarely travel to it or through it. In fact, I'm sure the only reason why I'm receiving the email is because I used their service to travel to UX Brighton earlier this year.


And this is one of the problems with Southern Railway's email communication strategy: it's not clear why I'm receiving the email. There's no indication I'm getting these messages because I signed up to some information service.

There are other problems too: when I received the first email, from "Southern", I didn't recognise it.  Indeed, Southern is their trading name, but they also use Southern Railway (three times in the email above) and their website is southernrailway.com.  There's no indication of why I'm getting the email, or how to stop receiving them. In short, it feels like mass-marketing, spam.

Here, then, are some guidelines for improving the user experience of your email communications.

Be clear about who you are

My mail program reports the sender of the email simply as "Southern". Although Southern is the trading name of the company, without context (such as in the From line of the email), it's meaningless. My first guess was Southern Electric, an energy company I used to be a customer of.


Don't assume your users will have a preview pane that might give them a clue about who you are, or that you will get any more screen space than a scan of the From and Subject lines. Users are busy, selective and suspicious. Don't give them a reason to ignore or delete your email, or flag it as spam. You've lost them before they've even opened your email.

Be clear about why your readers are receiving the email

Include a statement about why the users are getting the email. Reassure them that you're not spamming them. Users are busy; they might not remember signing up with you for your service. They might not have noticed the checkbox that your website helpfully defaulted for them. Most of all, users may suspect that you are spamming them, and once lost, trust is mightily difficult to rebuild.

It can be as simple as a statement like "You're receiving this email because you signed up for news updates on our website".

Be personal: use their name

The email above is addressed "Dear Passenger", making me feel like they don't know me, don't care about me. If I signed up for information, I'm pretty sure they've got my name. It's not much of a stretch to include it in the email.

Include the email address (or username) the user signed up with

This is also trivially simple to do. And it adds another layer of trust, another prompt to the user that they really did sign up with you. The worst thing that can happen (as in this case) is that the users do click through to your website, and are prompted for an email address or username that they can't remember.

Make it clear how to unsubscribe from the email

Every email should include a direct link to unsubscribing. It should be trivially easy for users to do so. If users want to unsubscribe but can't, they often end up blocking your emails, which impacts on your bounce rate and ends up costing your business money.

One-click unsubscribe is a big deal. It builds confidence. Remember that when users remove themselves from your contact list, it's still a contact point. Make it work for you. Let your users remember you for the right reasons.

In the Southern Railway email, there's no mention of how to unsubscribe from future emails. When I couldn't see anything in the email about why I was receiving the email, I then looked for some words around "managing my communication preferences" or "unsubscribing from these notifications". Nothing.

In the end, I resorted to clicking through to the website, where I was prompted to sign in. I guessed at a username and password and got lucky. But then couldn't then find any information about communication or contact preferences.

Result: frustration. Annoyance. Lack of trust.

In short: make life easy and obvious for your users

How many problems were there with this email, and the website I arrived at? Bad addressing, unclear authorship, poor messages, no easy way out. I only got as far as I did because I'm interested in the subject and I'm writing an article about user experience and email communications. Would another user get this far?

What do your email newsletters say about you? Are they as polished as your website? What could you do to make your email communications better for your users?

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Cycle2Work: Choosing a bike to commute on

My company has (finally, after several months of waiting) introduced a Cycle2Work scheme through CycleScheme, and I have ordered a new bike.

Cycle2Work is a scheme introduced by the UK Government to encourage bike usage in employees; effectively the company buys the bike and leases it to the employee (that's me!) over a fixed term.  At the end of the lease period, the bike can be bought for "a nominal sum". From the employee's point of view, it's kind of like a cheap loan (except the company owns the bike until the end of the scheme).  The lease payments are taken direct from salary, before tax and national insurance are charged. This arrangement reduces the tax and national insurance paid by the employee, and means that ultimately the bike is cheaper than it would be to buy directly. Up to £1000 can be spent on a bike and other equipment (helmet, lights etc).

The scheme has more subtleties and complexities than I've included above, but the fact of it is getting a new bike for less money.

A bike for cycle commuting

I've chosen an On-One Pompino Road Sport, a steel-framed singlespeed/fixedwheel bike made by a British company based in my native Yorkshire.
I'm very excited.

The Giant SCR2 that I've been using for my commuting and other riding for a couple of years cost me £550 brand new (from the excellent AW Cycles).  The equivalent bike these days is the Giant Defy 2, retailing at around £800.  In other words, the bike that I can buy with the £1000 from the Scheme is not much better than the bike I already own.

So I chose the Pompino, a singlespeed/fixed commuter that I've lusted after for a long time. The frame is steel so is robust for the month-in, month-out mileage. And it's singlespeed so doesn't have any complex shifters or mechanisms to get attacked by the salty winter roads. It takes wide tyres for grip in the horrible weather and has clearance for mudguards. It's a thing of beauty.

Singlespeed: one gear

The Pompino has one gear. That's right, just the one gear. In a time when people are buying bikes with more and more gears, why would anyone go the other way and buy a bike with fewer gears? Worse, why would someone buy a fixedwheel bike, where the pedals turn at the same time as the back wheel? Just like those  bikes the track riders use, you can't stop pedalling whilst the bike is in motion.

Well, a singlespeed bike is a pared-down machine, untroubled by shifters and mechanisms and all the moving parts and cables needed for a multi-geared bike. That ought to make maintenance easier - there are fewer parts to maintain. And it's somehow a little purer; the connection between man and machine is a little more direct, more immediate. I like that.

The Pompino can run either fixedwheel or freewheel. Riding fixed means pedalling whenever the bike is in motion. It promotes a smooth pedalling style - you've probably seen those track riders tearing 'round the velodrome in the Olympics. Done properly, fixed wheel riding requires (and develops!) legs of steel. When riding freewheel the rider can at least stop pedalling without being thrown over the handlebars. In either case the single gear means that every ride is a combination of high-resistance muscle building (when climbing hills) and low-resistance aerobic exercise (when descending). And a lot of fun.

A fixedwheel bike is theoretically less attractive to thieves, too. Mostly likely they'll fall off horribly if they try and ride off on one.

Of course, just one gear means choosing the right gear; the right balance between easy enough for the hills, and hard enough for the flat. Choosing the gear ratio was challenging, and I'll keep you posted on how successful my choice was when the bike arrives. I've already picked the bike, tweaked the components and filed the forms.

Now it's just a case of waiting until all the paperwork has been done and my new bike arrives.

Friday, December 10, 2010

An environmental policy worth something

Many hotels have little cards in the bathrooms that talk about saving water by not washing towels every day. The picture below shows one from a Hilton hotel. I'm not singling out Hilton but for the fact that I stayed in one of their hotels recently.



At first glance, the message is good. There is a clear statement identifying the area Hilton want to address: reducing water consumption. Good! Now we know what we're talking about we can do something about it. After all, achieving a meaningful kind of environmentalism starts with understanding what it means to you.

Empty promises

But the stated goal of reducing water consumption is neither measurable nor achievable in any meaningful sense. There are no targets, no commitments, no governance - only a vague aspiration.

Even worse, although the hotel appears to sign-up to this policy, the emphasis to actually do something is all on the guest. The hotel is the facilitator, and it is the guests that must take responsibility for their actions (which, of course, it is). This is good; empowering the guests. But there's no matching commitment from the hotel.

And what about that cheesy, corny phrase "staying at the Hilton will never cost the earth"? A phrase that's been used, in various forms, in so many other places, it's become hackneyed, clich├ęd.

There's also a problem in practice with this policy. In many hotels, and in the Hilton on this occasion, although I never left my towels on the floor, they were still replaced every day. Which reduces the message to little more than lip service. Worse, it's a slap in the face: the hotel has offered something I can participate in, and they're ignoring my requests, my instructions. "Hilton gives you the choice".  And then ignores it.

Ultimately, cards of this type end up being nothing more than a feel-good exercise for hotel and guests. The hotel appears to be considerate about the environment, and may make their guests feel like they're doing a Good Thing - but in fact the hotel does whatever they want to, without any consequence.

What's your definition of environmentalism? How would you make this a more toothy policy, something worth signing up to? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

User experience and call centres

Although this blog is mostly concerned with the user experience of websites, that is of course only a part of the whole package. Your business will have any number of touchpoints with your customers, and it's important to give them all attention, as great user experience is a sum of the parts.

The user experience of telephone communications

The other day, I rang Laithwaites (a wine company based in the UK) as I'd had a wine from them that was corked. Unsurprisingly, the phone rang a few times and was picked up by their automated system. To my surprise, however, the recorded voice was vaguely familiar.

[Note: I've paraphrased from memory; you'll get the gist if not the exact words]
"Hi there, this is Tony Laithwaite, in France and on this recording. Er, I'm afraid everyone is busy at the moment, but if you hang on, someone will take your call."
Tony Laithwaite? The founder of the company? On the recorded message? Blimey. I was impressed. I hung on.

The phone rang a few more times before the automated system picked up again.
"Hi, it's Tony again. We're still a bit busy, but - er - it's coming up to Christmas, and hopefully you can find something in the new catalogue that - er - you like. We'll get to you soon. Thanks."
Again the phone rang - and this time it was answered by a human that politely and quickly dealt with my issue and exceeded my expectations.

Full marks to Laithwaites.

What Laithwaites got right

The recorded message is very clever, very appealing. Firstly, it's human. Tony Laithwaite gave his name to his company and is part of the brand; he regularly appears on marketing. He's recognisable. Having him answer the phone is a stroke of genius.

Secondly, the words he speaks seem genuine, unaffected.  The delivery is not polished; there are pauses and um and ers in the message, just like he'd recorded himself. It immediately creates the sense of a human connection, of a relationship between two people, rather than the impersonal recordings on phone systems.

This style of contact sets the tone for the conversation that's about to happen; it's relaxing, it engenders trust. Yes, I think there's a danger here of trying too hard, of trying to be too authentic, and somehow overdoing it, but Laithwaites have got the balance just right, and it really works.

What does your telephone system say about your business? Are you missing the chance to impress your customer whilst they wait to talk to your team?

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Monday, December 6, 2010

OBEs for cyclists: music for cycling

Car drivers can keep their ICE. Cyclists have OBEs.

On-Bike Entertainment systems, that is. A means of listening to music whilst on the wheel.

I've seen some impressive systems, including a full boogie-box with massive speaker, on one particular ride from London to Brighton. But for the commuter, something smaller, more discrete, and lighter is appropriate.

My current OBE is a Sony NWZ-8142F paired with a set of Philips sport earphones.

The Sony is a great little device; it's small, lightweight, and doubles as a USB drive. So I can take files to and from the office, if I ever need to, and charge it using any USB port. Putting music on it is as simple as dragging and dropping. There's also an FM radio, which I'll admit I've never used.

It's no longer available, in the way of consumer electronics, but the current Sony NWZB153 is similar.

The Philips earphones have that little ear hook that goes behind each ear and helps keep the earphones in place.  I have slightly strangely shaped ears and struggle to keep regular earphones in place so sport-type earphones are de rigueur for me.

At a push, I could use my phone, but it's easier to tuck the Sony into my sleeve (even using an elastic band to keep it in place) or arm warmers for cable management.

The buttons of the Sony are a tiny bit small, and definitely no use when wearing gloves.  But an OBE should be a set-and-forget; it's not for fiddling with once in the saddle. No, set it up and get on with the ride. And never never never fiddle with your OBE on a climb.

Music for OBEs

Fundamentally, it's whatever works for you and your riding style. In the morning I favour something with a bit more pace, a higher BPM; something to stir the reluctant blood and get the muscles working. At the end of the day, I find the tracks that worked in the morning quite often irritate, and I need something a bit more soothing.

The soundtrack to my summer commute is currently being revised for the cooler, darker months.

What's on your OBE? Which tunes are getting you going in the winter mornings? Leave a comment below.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Environmentalism, Clutter and Smart Thursday

Every Thursday, I wear a suit out of choice rather than necessity, as part of my personal brand of environmentalism. Why? How? I'm glad you asked. Read on.

Environmentalism and Clutter

One of my personal environmental principles is the prevention of clutter; partly by not owning anything I don't regularly use, and also by having nothing that’s too nice to use.

This clutter-prevention principle applies at the front end of ownership, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m careful about what I buy. There's no need to purchase the unnecessary, no need to bring into my house (and life) things I simply don't need; things that will sit on a shelf or in a wardrobe, unused.

In other words, clutter.

As well as strenuously avoiding acquiring clutter (and things I will dispose of the moment I get them, or their contents home – the principle of least packaging), the clutter-prevention principle also applies to what I already have. Every so often, I spend time evaluating whether I still need what I own, and passing it on if I don't; a kind of non-perpetuation of clutter.

Whenever I find something I haven't used for a while, I ask myself why. Is it something I simply don't need any more? Is it time to pass it on? Or is it a reminder of a habit that I want to practice and have somehow slipped? If I can’t answer all those questions satisfactorily, the item in question gets moved on (I pass it on, re-purpose, re-sell, recycle it).

But I also work to find new ways to use what I do have, rather than throw it out.

Which is how Smart Thursday happened.

Smart Thursday

In the last few years, I've been exploring the whole bespoke suit concept. I love the idea of having clothes that were made specifically for me - a kind of perfectly-tailored consumption - there's no waste in producing something to order. I'm also drawn to the notion of having something unique, personal, something I can cherish and keep for years; something crafted, made to last.

During the research period, I'd bought a few suits, some of which are rather nice (and some very nice). But, due to various circumstances and job changes, they’re seldom worn, except for those exceptional occasions like weddings. I had no need to wear a suit to work so these beautiful clothes were hiding in my wardrobe. They had become clutter, or were certainly on the verge of doing so. Applying my own principles meant that - since I didn't use them - I would have to dispose of them.

And yet - I really loved those suits, felt great wearing them. I wasn't quite ready to get rid of them. So I turned the principle on its head. If I started using them, used them regularly, then by definition they were no longer clutter. And I could keep them.

So every Thursday, regardless of what I'm doing, wherever I'm working - yes, when I work from home too - I pick a suit to wear. I enjoy it. I delight in the pleasure of dressing up one day a week. Smart Thursday was born.

Why Thursday? Why not? Perhaps a reaction to the tradition of Dress-Down Friday. Perhaps because it suited (ho ho) the way I arrange my working week. Just because.

Smart Thursday has been going for a year or so. People are used to it. My wife looks forward to it. Certain colleagues navigate their week by it. When I wear a suit on another day, perhaps because I have an important meeting, I see people start and I can practically hear them thinking Is it Thursday already? When I move Smart Thursday to Friday for logistical reasons, people comment.

And you know what? On top of all the feeling good whilst wearing my suit, on top of the pleasure of "dressing up" - on top of all the nice comments I get, every week, from colleagues, about how smart or dapper I look - best of all is that other people have started joining in.

Smart Thursday has spread. Other people are wearing their own seldom-worn smarter clothes, their unused-but-still-loved suits. I'm reducing clutter in other people's lives.

Which is very cool.

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