Workplace Lab

The workplace of the (immediate) future

Our business is our laboratory – every day we apply the same methods we use with our clients to help us become more efficient, make better decisions, and find better solutions. Because our office is a testing ground, we know from direct experience how hard it is to change habits, the value of doing so in a group context, and the tremendous benefits that lies at the other side of all that hard work.

If you'd like to find out how we can help your workplace improve, give us a call at 267.687.8008 or contact us at

Current workplace experiments

Below is a list of the current workplace experiments we're undertaking at the Action Mill. We regularly evaluate and make changes to these policies, tools and methods as part of our exploration into improving work for people.


Formerly Email Windows
Participating: Nick and Jethro
Experiment started: October, 2012

We've known for a while that e-mail is effective for some kinds of communication, and detrimental to many others. We've limited our use of e-mail in different ways (see Internet Sabbath, below, for one example) but this is our most focused experiment to date that deals with limiting the impact e-mail has on our work. For one week, we limited ourselves to two 45-minute periods each day to use of e-mail. We held short reflection meetings each day to check in on how this habit is affecting our work, and a 30-minute evaluation at the end of the week.

So far, we’ve both noticed the “e-mail twitch”: whenever we finish a task, or we’re not sure what to do next, we reach for our e-mail app. We’ve found the sensation is similar to nervous eating.

Watch a video of our webinar on LeanMail here, and read our blog post on the development of LeanMail: Fences, sidelines and the end of my email addiction.

Flow morning

Participating: All members
Experiment started: September, 2012

Inspired by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and our other experiments in creating focused work time, we do not schedule meetings on Tuesday mornings. This time is to be used for any tasks or activities where people need an extended period of focused time. Our results have varied: some people on some days have reported getting a lot of good work done, but some people have reported difficulty in getting focused. We follow up each Flow morning with a check-in on all of our workplace experiments and offer advice and insights to help each other get the most out of our Flow mornings.

Check-ins and check-outs

Participating: All members
Experiment started: Fall, 2009

Every morning, all members who are working that day gather for a 20-minute check-in. Every evening, before we go our separate ways, we have a short check-out. We do this to give ourselves the best chance at working well as individuals and as a team. On any team on any given day you’re bound to have one or more people who are distracted – something is taking their attention and causing stress or excitement that most other people probably don’t know about. This can cause misalignment, confusion, and resentment. Check-ins help us provide support to each other when we need it and give us a better shot at doing good work together every day. We sharpened our approach to these meetings by applying lessons from the Stand-up meetings used in many Agile Development methodologies. We use Skype for many of our check-ins and check-outs, so we rely on the lessons captured in How to Video Conference Without Having an Aneurysm.

Guilt Hour

Participating: all members
Experiment Started: November, 2012

Sometimes we feel bad for not getting to certain tasks. This can contribute to a cycle where we put off those tasks we feel guilty about, and then feel even more guilty about them the longer we put them off. To remedy this, we set aside one hour every week to work on specific tasks that cause us to feel guilty. One day a week, following our morning check-in, we take 2 minutes to look through our Personal Kanban* and determine whether there is a task that we’ve been feeling guilty about not doing. We each say what that task is and whether we need direct or moral support. We then do those tasks before doing anything else.

For more details on Guilt Hour, see our blog post "Get your team unstuck with Guilt Hour."

*See Personal Kanban description below.

Internet Sabbath

Participating: Nick
Experiment started: Spring, 2010

After a 15-week bout of back pain (and a lifetime of work-a-holic behavior), Nick decided that he needed to radically change his habits in order to manage stress and make time for non-work activities. On the recommendation of a Self Regulation Therapist, Nick began stepping away from his internet habit by not using any internet services on Saturdays. This experiment has led to better relationships with friends, more time for reading, reflection, and exercise, and less stress and pain. Nick now often avoids using the internet on Sundays as well, and doesn’t check email in the evenings.


Participating: Philadelphia office members
Experiment started: February, 2012

We hold a 1-hour yoga class each week in our Philadelphia office. Clients and colleagues who are working in our office are welcome to attend, and we vary the type of yoga and yoga instructors. This is one of our strongest workplace habits: we’ve found that maintaining a regular schedule of yoga helps us manage stress and do better work.

Personal Kanban

Participating: All members
Experiment started: February, 2012

We have experience using Agile Development methods for non-software projects, but when we found the book Personal Kanban, we discovered a new way to integrate it into our everyday work. Personal Kanban helps us visualize our work and focus on a small number of tasks at a time. This prevents us from getting overwhelmed by our to do lists and helps us combat the myth of multitasking. Each of us has developed our own own Personal Kanban tool: we have travel versions, wall-sized versions, versions that mix personal and work tasks and meta-kanban that track types of tasks. We’ve trained clients, friends, and colleagues in this method.

Watch a video of our webinar on Personal Kanban here


Participating: All members
Experiment started: Fall, 2009

Basecamp is a tool for online collaboration. We share ideas, manage projects, manage the business and keep each other updated with message threads on Basecamp. It also serves as an archive for decisions and work we’ve done in the past. We recently upgraded to the new Basecamp, and we are finding it a more focused and intuitive experience. There was a lot of grumbling in online forums when the new Basecamp launched (some features from the old Basecamp were not included in the new version), but we have adjusted quickly and we’re finding it to be a great tool for keeping ourselves aligned and up to date with each other. 

Basecamp is a product of 37signals.

4-Day Workweek

Participating: all members
Experiment started: August, 2012

There are six members of our team, and each of us have things outside of work that require our time and attention (kids, partners, other organizations and interests) but during this experiment, none of us work more than 4 days a week. That doesn't mean we work longer hours on those four days – it means we use tools and processes to be more effective and focused when we're at work. So far, we've found that we're calmer, better at communicating with each other, and more able to determine what's important and stay focused on those tasks.

This experiment was inspired by the workplace philosophy of 37signals, the company that makes the collaboration tools we depend on, and by the New Economics Foundation’s “21 hours” report.

Stand Up Desks 

Participating: Nick and Jethro
Experiment started: August, 2012

In August Jethro converted his desk to a stand up desk with instructions Georgia shared with our team (linked below). Jethro used an end table from IKEA and a set of yoga blocks to elevate his laptop. He  used a cardboard box to create a higher desk surface next to his computer station and added a plug-in keyboard and a wireless trackpad. In November, he began track of how much time he sat for work each day. Nick joined the experiment in November. In the near future we plan on increasing the number of stand up meetings and explore simple ways to track sitting vs. standing and the impacts sitting and standing have on our effectiveness and happiness.

Stand up desk instructions by Colin Nederkoorn.