3 game changing productivity tips

:: by Lizzie






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1.  M E A S U R E  W H A T ‘ S  U R G E N T  &  W H A T ‘ S  I M P O R T A N T

When I heard this system quoted on Jess Lively’s podcast it really struck a chord with me. It’s from the book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Dr Stephen R Covey and focuses on helping us work out how we spend our time and how to better prioritise it in order to be more productive. Let me explain. Covey splits the combinations of urgent and important tasks into 4 quadrants. Quadrant 1 is both Urgent and Important. A good example would be, your house is burning down and you need to put the fire out. It’s urgent because it’s happening that second and it’s obviously important – people could get hurt, your home and belongings could be lost.


Quadrant 2 is Not Urgent but it is Important. An example for this would be exercise. It’s important we all take care of our bodies by exercising and eating well but it’s not urgent. However, not taking care of ourselves now could lead to an urgent health problem later, ending up in Quadrant 1. Quadrant 3 is where the majority of people spend most of their time. Urgent but Not Important. This is the stuff that’s happening right now and drawing our attention but that isn’t actually important. Constant emails pinging at you, phone alerts, text messages, phone calls that you feel you must answer but that might be a distraction from what’s actually important. And then the final Quadrant is 4, where things are Not Urgent and Not Important. Hopefully you’re not spending too much time in that one.




What really hit home with me is that most of us spend the majority of our working lives in Quadrants 1 and 3 when actually Quadrant 2 is the place to really push the needle and be most productive. As someone running their own business, this realisation has been a huge game changer. I can get so bogged down with the day-to-day running and admin of SMUG along with ‘urgent’ requests from press, suppliers and customers that I don’t get anything like enough time to focus on the things that would take SMUG to the next level. The tasks that fall into Quadrant 2 can feel like vanity projects – designing a pattern collection, writing a book proposal, taking time to design more complex window displays in advance, spending time developing content for the blog on a regular basis, styling in-house photo shoots at SMUG – but these are the things that actually develop SMUG and push what I’m doing forward. It’s so easy to stagnate in Quadrants 1 and 3 when Quadrant 2 is where we can actually flood new life and energy into what we do and make leaps and bounds forwards, towards our goals and in our productivity. I’m feeling pretty excited about this. Can you tell?



2.  P R I O R I T I S E  Y O U R  T O – D O S  &  S T I C K  T O  T H E M

I love lists. I’m pretty well organised when it comes to making them but when it comes to ticking everything off of them, I do sometimes struggle. There are a few problems I come up against regularly: Firstly my list for the day tends to be unrealistically long. This means I never get to the end of my to-dos, so jobs are always being pushed over to the next day and I miss out on that sense of achievement in finishing everything off. Another problem is that I’ve often started with the easy/fun items on the list and put off the ‘big’ or ‘hard’ jobs till later which can foster a bit of an uncomfortable feeling of doom overhead, until those bigger jobs are ticked off. Also, with lists in ‘Notes’ on my iPhone, it’s so easy to copy and paste tasks to the next day and generally move things around, that my to-do lists just weren’t fixed enough and were leading to me not feeling much sense of achievement for clearing a list of jobs.


So my new system is to make a hand written list in my notepad everyday (with tick boxes!) of around 5 – 8 tasks (no more) and most importantly, I write them in order of priority. This way I force myself to start with the most important task which leads to a real sense of achievement when I’ve finished that job (and can tick it off!) and it tends to really give me a boost to get on with the next item on the list. Of course, because of the nature of my job, things get added to the list during the day in order for me to support my team and deal with the happenings of the day at SMUG. But this way my day essentially gets easier as it goes on and every task is a little more simple and quicker to complete than the last. Genius no?



3.  C R E A T E  A  M O R N I N G  &  E V E N I N G  R O U T I N E

I find that I’m at my most productive when I have a structure and am actually taking pleasure in what I’m doing. I really benefit from having both morning and evening routines. My morning routine is designed to help me get up and out of bed, feeling positive and ready for the day. If I start the day with intention, using a routine that makes me happy, I am absolutely more productive that day. Little things like starting the day with a big glass of water and a skincare routine that makes me feel pampered, give me the kind of structure that helps me get out of bed happy and with purpose. If I’m able to go for a run or a swim or do a bit of yoga as part of my morning routine, I feel so proud of myself that I make better choices throughout the rest of the day. I like to have ingredients for a yummy and healthy breakfast at hand to keep things simple but keep my tastebuds interested in the morning. You can read my blog post on healthy breakfast inspiration here.


My evening routine helps me wind down from work, ready for a good nights sleep. Taking off my makeup, lighting a scented candle, prepping my hot water bottle, doing a face mask, painting my nails or reading a book, all help with me feeling rested and ready for bedtime. This in turns helps me get an excellent nights sleep so I wake up revived and ready for the day the following morning. These choices to take pleasure in and give purpose to my down time, genuinely make a huge difference to my productivity and general wellbeing. I’m often too busy and rushed off my feet but focussing on the above in my work life, taking Sunday as a day off with my husband (and the comforting structure of belonging to a church and the peace I find in prayer when I remember to do it) makes me feel happy, blessed, productive and on the way to getting that work-life balance people talk about.


designer spotlight – thornback & peel at SMUG

:: by Lizzie


Thornback & Peel is a design studio, based in Bloomsbury London, founded by Juliet Thornback and Delia Peel. I’ve been a fan of their beautiful screen-printed wares for some time and am pretty sure that SMUG has stocked their tea towels ever since we opened our doors back in 2009.


The best thing that’s come out of working with Delia and Juliet, is undoubtably the Guinea Pig and Pineapple exclusives collection we’ve developed together for SMUG. Thornback & Peel are a joy to work with and I’ve loved getting to know them and their team over the years. Our Guinea Pig logo which Thornback & Peel redrew for the collaboration, appears on tea towels, aprons, oven gloves, napkins and hankies. The addition of the Pineapple design which ultimately inspired the Guinea and Pineapple combo pattern has been a huge success and is a firm favourite with SMUG customers. You can see the full collection here.


Our big news for Spring is that the Guinea Pig and Pineapple combo Tea Towel and Apron are now both available in the new Mint and Pale Blue colour-way, pictured below. To learn more about what makes Juliet and Delia tick, as well as a bit about their backgrounds and inspirations, then read on for a mini interview as part of my designer spotlight series.









Tell us a bit about each of your backgrounds and how you came to be doing what you’re doing now.

Thornback & Peel was created after we were introduced by a very clever friend who sensed that we shared a fascination for the eccentric and surreal. I (Delia Peel) was working as a set designer at the Royal Court and Juliet (Thornback) as a florist, but at the time we met we were both looking to create a business by making something ourselves. I lived around the corner from Covent garden flower market where we would meet at the crack of dawn for a sausage sandwich and a cup of very strong tea to plan our collections. The business began in that café and on our kitchen tables. Eventually we graduated to a tiny studio space in Deptford with a desk as our print table and a few years later into the studio we’re in now in Bloomsbury.


What are you most inspired by and which key elements of the Thornback and Peel studio most resonate with your personally?

Our studio is a happily buzzing workspace. The office, designing, printing and packing all happen in the same place. The print table dominates with a bank of computers for all the behind the scenes work. We print our handkerchiefs on site, so you’ll typically see tins of sardines being carefully screen-printed and laid out side by side, while the new design ideas cover the walls – hand-drawn ideas, inspiration and colour tests all go up side by side. Organised chaos.

We like to draw on British humour in our designs – looking back to literary references often from the stories we loved as children and still tell our own children today. We like to update classic ideas and by playing with colour, form and scale produce prints with a little charm from the past. With sources of inspiration including Mrs Beeton’s household management, 17th Century microscope imagery of the natural world to Alice in Wonderland.


If you each had to choose one SMUG product to have what would it be?

Peel: I adore the Thornback & Peel X SMUG collection, working with Lizzie is really fun. The guinea pig and pineapple combo is one of my all time favourite designs, but I already have it at home! So it would be the Bonne Maison Fruits socks.

Thornback: Alex Munroe’s Lobster necklace (we love these curious sea creatures – they have been in our collection in one way or another since we began 10 years ago. We have woven them into an all over print in this Spring’s collection.)



guinea_pineapple_kitchen_group_2 copy



designer spotlight – tom pigeon for SMUG

:: by Lizzie
Tom Pigeon Summer 2014_05_cropped_web_


Tom Pigeon is a small design studio, based on the East coast of Scotland, founded by Pete and Kirsty Thomas in 2014. SMUG has been stocking and enjoying their work for some time now. Last year I commissioned them to rework one of my own patterns to produce a collection of SMUG exclusive brass foiled notebooks. We’re also lucky enough to share a joint exclusive with Tom Pigeon on their limited run of Metallic Letterpress Number Prints.



Metallic Letterpress Cinematype Prints 0-9 available at SMUG here.



Brass Foiled Notebooks available at SMUG here.


We also sell their jewellery and Cinematype prints. Can you tell I’m a big fan? It’s the SMUG exclusives above that I’m most proud of though. Kirsty and Pete design beautiful things and are lovely people that are a dream to work with. In order to give you a little more insight into the designers behind the studio, I asked them a few questions about their backgrounds, inspirations and design priorities.





Tell us a bit about each of your backgrounds and how you came to be doing what you’re doing now?


We met and started working as designers in the early 1990’s and since then have worked across design disciplines, for small companies and big business, designing all kinds of stuff for lots of different people. Kirsty has worked in the fashion industry as a designer and visual merchandiser designing for small indie retailers and big stores like Top Shop. Pete set up the international design agency Uniform whilst still at university and in 2014 was shortlisted for the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year.


Tom Pigeon was formed after years of us working separately but always contributing to each others projects. As Tom Pigeon we design simple things for people to enjoy including prints, jewellery and stationery as well as taking on creative commissions and consultancy work. Our work is exhibited and sold across the world. We created Tom Pigeon to make the kind of things we would like to own and live with.


What are you most inspired by and which key elements of the Tom Pigeon studio most resinate with you personally?


We love clean design; Mid-century Modern, Brutalism and Minimalism but are equally inspired by our traditional, rural surroundings – colours and reflections in the sea, fishing boats, the structure and shapes of the local harbours.


It’s important to us that our products are carefully crafted, either by our team in the studio or by the amazing makers and artisans that we work with to produce our prints, jewellery and stationery.


If you had to choose one SMUG product what would it be?


HAY’s Wooden Spinning Tops – playful, colourful, simple.