Why You Should Be Reducing The Tasks In Your To-do List.

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Many years ago, I worked in car sales. I learnt a lot in those days about people and about how a business with multiple parts could work together. One area of the business that stood out for me was the service centre. The service centre of the dealership I worked at was attached to the showroom and I had a lot of contact with the team that worked on the cars brought in for service and repairs.

A valuable lesson learned

One of the lessons I learned from the service centre was how they organised their work. When they took an appointment for a service or a repair, the basic work required was entered on a booking sheet and a day was assigned for when the car would come in. The booking sheet contained only the basics of what work needed carrying out on the car. For example, it might have “full service” or “oil change”. Apart from the make and model of the car and the customer’s name, there was not much else on the booking sheet.

When the car came in, however, a worksheet was placed inside the car. This sheet contained the list of work that needed to be carried out, notes made by the person taking the booking and a place for the mechanic to write what he had done and what he believed needed to be done. Any issues, anything waiting from the parts department and customer requests were all written down on this worksheet. It was a system that worked and one that led to very few mistakes. As a result of this system, our service department had one of the highest customer service ratings in the country.

Going all in digital

When I decided to create an all-digital productivity system in 2009, I adopted a similar approach. I had my to-do list manager, my calendar and my notes app. My calendar always told me when my deadlines were, where I was meant to be and when. My to-do list manager told me what work I should be doing that day and my notes app was where I kept all my project notes, things that needed thinking about and things I was waiting for. My notes app acted as my worksheet. It was where it really didn’t matter whether things were beautifully laid out or were in any kind of organised list. It was my reference guide. I could dump links to articles of interest, telephone numbers of key people related to the project and issues that needed resolving.

The system I created meant my to-do list manager told me to “Continue working on Project X” and in my notes app, I found the corresponding note called “Project X”and contained in that note were all my thoughts, ideas and, to a certain extent, what I needed to work on next.

A better way of handling tasks

It’s a system I’ve used for years and it works. Often, I find many people write out a task list on their to-do list manager like this:

  • Download image
  • Resize image
  • Crop image
  • Colour correct image
  • Add text to image
  • Post image to website.

Instead, all I would have is a task called “Post new image to website”. This means my to-do list never looks overwhelming. It allows my notes app to be my digital playground and it really doesn’t matter what I dump in the note. I am free to write what I want, how I want and I am not forced to create endless lists in a hierarchical manner.

These days, I can also add a link directly to the document I am working on, be that a Google Doc or an Apple Pages or Keynote file which makes this system even more efficient. Less clicking and an immediate update on where I am with the project.

My workflow essentially works something like this:

  • Review Todoist to see what work needs doing. Click on the Evernote note link and
  • open Evernote note to that project and review notes.
  • open document I am working on and begin work.

It’s simple, it gets me up to speed very quickly and over the years has evolved into a sleek, efficient system.

Here’s how I use Todoist to get this working:

 

A better archiving solution

Another benefit of using this method I found is I am able to save the notes I made during the project in my archive. This means in the future, if I ever work on a similar project, I will have all the notes and ideas I had from a previous project available to me. One of the problems with to-do list managers is once the task is done it disappears and although some to-do list managers do archive your completed tasks and projects, they are not easily searchable, unlike with an app like Evernote, where all your notes are searchable.

An Antidote to project task overwhelm.

When you start adding a lot of unnecessary tasks into your to-do list manager, you very quickly find yourself overwhelmed by the length of your lists. You will also find it difficult to resist the temptation of picking and choosing what to work on. Some tasks will be easy, others will be more difficult and quite a few will be sheer drudgery. Not a good way to get you motivated to get on with your work. When you see a task such as “Continue working on Project X” and, in my case a direct link to my project notes from my to-do list manager, I have no overwhelming list. Just a simple direction to work on a specific project. The choice I have to make is do the work or not do the work. Once you start working, the flow begins and you quickly get into doing the work.

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So if you find you have long lists of tasks in your project lists, consider farming some of those tasks out to your notes app. Create a note with the same title as your project and use that note as your playground. You can add ideas, notes, links and keep track of what you have done each day. Once the project is complete, you can archive the note for future reference so next time you have a similar project you will have a good set of notes to guide you through the difficulties.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit those clapping hands below many times👏 It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.

 

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My purpose is to help 1 million people by 2020 to live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.

If you would like to learn more about the work I do, and how I can help you to become better organised and more productive, you can visit my website or you can say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.

How To Turbo-charge Your Productivity Using Hard Edges and Single Apps.

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I get a lot of questions about the types of apps someone should use for various different types of notes, tasks and projects and whether it is okay to keep some notes in one app and other notes in another app. When I do get these questions, I know the person asking the question will have a very complex system in place, which nine times out of ten is the reason they are struggling with their personal productivity.

A good functioning productivity system has very clean boundaries between each functioning app. Tasks are in a single task manager, notes are in a single notes app, events and appointments are on a calendar and files are in a single file storage app. There is no cross over. This means, if you want to check on the time an appointment is next week, you only need to look at your calendar. If you want to see what still needs to be done on a project, you only need to open your task list manager. If you want to review your notes from a meeting last week, you only need to open your notes app and if you want to continue working on the PowerPoint file for your appointment next week, you only need to open you files storage folder. There’s no having to think about where something is because you have very clean boundaries between the different types of work you have.

Here’s how I recommend a project is set up.

Let’s say I have a project to create a new employee training programme. My boss and I had a meeting last week where my boss told me she wanted me to develop this training programme. The notes from that meeting would be collected in Evernote. As this is a project, I would create a new notebook in Evernote called “New Employee Training Programme 2018”. Any meeting notes, research papers and such like would be collected in that one notebook.

(NB. Creating a new notebook for the project is my way of managing projects. Other people prefer creating a tag. It really doesn’t matter how you set it up as long as you know how to find all your notes when you need them)

After the meeting I would create a new project in Todoist under my work folder called “New Employee Training Programme 2018” and I would add in the very next action. I can develop the other tasks later.

I would then create a folder in my iCloud Drive under Work called “New Employee Training Programme 2018” and the documents I am writing for this project would be stored there.

Future appointments related to this project would be added to my calendar with the letters NETP2018 in brackets before the meeting name. This way I will be able to instantly recognise what the meeting is about when I see it on my calendar.

So, once set up, the project structure would look like this:

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It does not take very long to set this up after the initial meeting. It takes around five minutes to set up, but those five minutes mean that when you are working on the project, there is no wasted time trying to remember where you put something relevant to the project because you will know: If it’s a task, it’s in your task manager, if it’s a file you are working on, it’s in your storage drive and the appointment for the next meeting is on your calendar. All notes related to the project will be in your notes app. Because you have a unified naming system, it is very easy (and quick) to find exactly what you are looking for.

This is why, when you are constantly playing around with new apps, tweaking your system or have too many similar types of apps, you spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to remember where you put something. When that happens, I find people complain about how “busy” they are and how “overwhelmed” they feel. The position you want to be achieving is when you want to find something, all you need to know is what it is you are looking for. If you want to find a PDF file about the old employee training programme, you will instantly know that will be in your notes app, in the notebook called “New Employee Training Programme 2018” and you can go straight to it. If your boss asks to see the Word file you are working on, you will instantly know to go to your storage drive and to the folder “New Employee Training Programme 2018” and pull up the Word file.

When you have hard edges between your productivity apps you know where everything is and you save so much time and energy. When you don’t, you create a busy, overwhelming life for yourself.

I hope this has helped clarify project set ups for you. This structure works for almost any kind of project you are working on whether it is a work project, or simply cleaning out your home. If you stick to this project setup, you will find a lot of the ‘busyness’ and ‘overwhelm’ you feel will just wash away and you will always know what needs to be done and when.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit those clapping hands below many times👏 It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.

My goal is to help show you how to live the life you desire. To help you find happiness and become better organised and more productive so you can do more of the important things in life.

If you would like to learn more about the work I do, you can visit my website or you can say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.

The Tools I Use.

I am often asked, aside from Todoist and Evernote, what apps I use on a daily basis. So I thought I would use this blog post to go through the different apps I use to help make me more productive.

Todoist

Todoist is the core of my whole productivity system. It controls my daily tasks, it makes sure I am doing stuff that is important to my future goals and it makes sure I collect all the daily stuff that comes in to my life so I can process it later.

Evernote

Evernote is my go to notes application. I have been using Evernote for eight years now and I have built up a large collection of articles, ideas and reference materials over those years. I use Evernote to collect articles I find interesting or want to refer to at a later date. I also use it to collect ideas and plans for future use. I even use it for brainstorming ideas.

Fantastical

Fantastical is my calendar app of choice for all my appointments. I’ve been using Fantastical for about three years now and I chose it because of its incredible natural language recognition abilities. Over those three years, Fantastical has got better and better and now with it’s desktop app it has become an all round great calendar app.

Newton Mail

For years I used Apple’s built in mail app on all my devices. That was until I was introduced to Newton about six months ago. To me all the traditional mail apps looked too corporate and were not an inspiring place to do work. Newton changed that for me. It’s interface is gorgeous and it really is a pleasure to compose, read and organise mail. I confess I do still use Apple Mail at the end of a day because Apple Mail has smart mailboxes where I can collect all the action today emails into one place.

So there are my core apps. These apps tell me what have to do and where I have to be while at the same time makes sure I get my work done on time.

Now for the heavy lifting apps:

Apple Keynote

I really don’t think I would be a presenter today if it was not for Keynote. I began using it from the very first day it was launched and have never been tempted back to PowerPoint. All my workshops, presentations and even draft design work is done in Keynote. I love the fact I can create outlines, PDF files and so much more with this brilliant app.

Apple Pages

Pages is my go to app for all written work. I love it’s interface, and the way you can format documents pretty much how you please. I also use the track changes features to proof read client work and then export as a Word file (as pretty much all my clients use MS Office)

Apple Numbers

Like Pages, I use Numbers for my day to day office work. I keep all student attendance lists, client payments and other similar files in iCloud so I can access these from my iPad when I am out and about.

Scrivener

For writing books and these articles I use Scrivener. Scrivener is the best app there is for long form writing such as a book or blog posts and since the app came available for the iPad and iPhone last year, this has meant I no longer need to carry my laptop with me every day as I can simply pick up where I left off on my iPad with its Dropbox syncing.

Screenflow 6

Screenflow is my app of choice for recording and editing my YouTube videos. I love it’s simplicity and solidity. It works, it has direct publishing to YouTube and the way it allows you to mix videos and text is just fantastic.

Now for the cloud drives I use.

I essentially use two cloud drives. These are:

Dropbox

Dropbox changed everything for me. It gave me a folder in the cloud where I could store pretty much all my files, so I no longer relied so much on my desktop or laptop’s hard drive. Now, when I change my computer, I can do a clean install of all the apps, and then allow Dropbox to do it’s thing and download the folders I require on the computer. Everything for both my work and personal life is stored in my Dropbox folder.

ICloud

I use iCloud for specific apps. In particular I use iCloud for Pages and Numbers files I am currently working on as I can access these directly from the device I am working from.

And now for the little utilities apps I use every day to make my life that little bit easier.

1Password

I couldn’t live without this wonderful app. 1Password is where I store all my passwords so I do not have to remember any. The only password I have to remember is the master password and as I use that every day it’s not difficult to remember. With the fingerprint ID functionality on the iPhone and iPad, 1Password is brilliant on my IOS devices.

TextExpander

Another one of those little apps that I couldn’t live without. TextExpander stores little snippets of text I use regularly so all I have to do is type the trigger word or letters and boom! The text appears. I also use TextExpander for today’s date and to correct my most common spelling errors — such as business which I regularly spell as “buisiness” for some reason.

Drafts

Drafts is a clever note taking app that allows you to send notes and captured ideas almost anywhere. I have a list of Evernote notes that Drafts can append notes to so I don’t need to go in to Evernote and search for a note. I can type my idea in Drafts, and then use the actions menu to send the note to any of my pre-defined notes. I also have some pre-written emails in Drafts that I use to send reminders to students. I do not need to type anything except the recipient’s email address. I admit since I got my iPhone 7 with 3D Touch, I have used it less for adding tasks to Todoist, but I do still use it for Evernote and common emails.

Scanbot

Scanbot is my scanning app of choice. It’s a great little app that works really well with Todoist and Evernote and allows me to take a quick scan of a document, receipt or sign and then send it to either my Evernote or Todoist accounts. Scanbot is one of those solid apps that does exactly what it is supposed to do and does it very well.

Apple Music

Love this app so much. It allows me to listen to my favourite trance artists as well as go down memory lane whenever the mood takes me. How I survived without it I have no idea.

Apple’s Podcast App

Okay, this one might surprise some people, but I have found Apple’s Podcasts is a solid app that works extremely well. I’ve tried a lot of alternatives, but none of them has been so much better than Apple’s native podcast app that I wanted to change. On my phone, where I listen to most of my podcasts, I am subscribed to Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy, Judge Jules’s Global Warm Up, Paul Van Dyk’s VONYC Sessions and Gareth Emery’s Electric For Life. Perfect music for when you are out and about or just need a pick me up.

And finally for reading I have the following:

Reeder

I use Reeder to collect all the articles from the blogs I am interested in and scan through these every morning while I am on my way to me first client. Any article I want to read later I send to…

Pocket

Where I will read these articles as and when I get time throughout the day.

And that is really all there is to it. I use Safari as my main browser on all my devices and from time to time I use Google Docs and Google Drive for collaboration projects. If I need a browser for doing work, then I use Chrome as I have no social media sites saved there and so the temptation to procrastinate is removed.

What you use to get your work done is irrelevant, what really matters is the content you produce. How you produce it doesn’t matter. The only advice I would give to anyone looking for the right tools for them is to choose tools you enjoy using. If you do not enjoy using them, or if you actually hate them, then it will affect the quality of your work. A good example of this is my use of Newton Mail. Newton isn’t really that much better than Apple mail, but it is a beautiful app to use and I just enjoy using it.

Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book, as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.

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Learning From Top Barristers

 Lord Keen in action at last week's Supreme Court Hearing

Lord Keen in action at last week's Supreme Court Hearing

Last week saw the UK Government’s Appeal of a High Court ruling on whether the Government can trigger the formal process of withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty) without prior consent of Parliament. The UK Supreme Court’s hearings are held in-camera, which meant that for the four days the hearing was held, the public was able to watch proceedings. With my background in law, I watched the hearing with interest. As the legal points in question were on the topic of constitutional law, it was like being back in year one of my degree course.

There were many lawyers presenting their cases as there were many parties with an interest in the case. Aside from the legal arguments I also had two further curiosities in the whole procedure. One was from a communication perspective and the other was an organisational curiosity.

On the organisational curiosity, I was interested in how the lawyers organised their papers and speeches (submissions) to the court. What I saw was the best lawyers, the ones who got their points across best, were the lawyers who had their papers and notes organised in a logical order and when they referred to cases they were able to find those cases with ease. The lawyers who did not get their points across well, who seemed like they were struggling to get their argument across, had disorganised papers and files and appeared lost. They used a lot of errrms and uums and at times looked like they did not know what they were doing.

To be able to get all those papers, references and arguments across into a professional, coherent manner takes a lot of preparation. To be able to anticipate questions, to have reference and case numbers immediately to hand, quotations from previous rulings and be able to counter-argue points from the other side’s lawyers needs a clear, uncluttered mind and focus on the essential points.

For us, every day folk, this hearing was a lesson on what it takes to be great at what you do. Of course there is an element of talent involved, there always is, but the lawyers presenting their case who did not come across as very good, have talent, but they lost out in the area of organisation. Their files were everywhere, their references took too long to find and their arguments appeared speculative because of the poor way in which they organised their materials and thus delivered their arguments.

Two outstanding lawyers, Lord Keen for the Government and Lord Pannick for the Respondent were very organised. Their oral presentation was coherent, their references were written down in front of them and the cases they quoted were ready at their side. It was clear Lords Keen and Pannick had prepared their own materials, the materials they used to address the court. They had anticipated potential questions and they built their case layer by layer, page by page. It was a masterclass in advocacy and organisation.

The mistakes most people make when they have an important meeting to attend or a presentation to do is they do not spend enough time developing their materials. They think just gathering materials together is enough. If you want to be outstanding that is not enough. Your reference materials need to be quickly accessed, your points need to be in front of you where you can see them, not hidden away in a file full of other papers, and you need to have the answers to questions ready, right where you can find them. To do that you need time. You need to make it a priority and you certainly should not be handing such an important part of your work off to your junior staff, no matter how important you think you are.

Being organised is often considered a nice skill, but not an essential one. I would beg to differ on that. I believe being organised is an essential skill. There is so much easily accessible information around today. We have access to whole libraries of information on our smart phones. Having the skills to be able to access the right information at the right time is vital. Being able to organise that information so we can use it in the right way and at the right time takes skill. This is as much a part of our personal lives as well as our professional lives. Without the ability to get the right information when we need it we waste so much time running around searching for stuff, we end up stressed out and unable to do a professional job.

If you really want to excel in your chosen field, whether that be law, software development or something else, you need to be organised. It is the one soft skill anyone can master and the one soft skill that can elevate you from average to great in the shortest time. Talent is one thing, and a very powerful one indeed, but talent alone is not going to make you great. Getting your stuff organised, knowing where everything is and being able to access it it when you need it is vitally important and a skill you can develop yourself to becoming great at what you do.

Learn how to use applications like Evernote and OneNote and other reference material software. Choose one, learn how to use it properly and make it an every day part of your life. Your brain alone cannot store all the information you need for your job and your life. We are fortunate to live in an age where we do not have to remember everything as technology has given us the ability to carry devices around with us that can hold that information for us. But just having that information to hand does not mean you have the skill. You need to learn and master how to access the right information at the right time. That is your responsibility and your key to becoming great at what you do. Now go out and get yourself organised and become great at what you do!

Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century

New Season Begins on my YouTube Channel Today

I'm very excited to launch Season 2 of my Your Digital Life series on my YouTube channel today. 

The new season will take you through the steps to set up Evernote so that all your notes, and digital stuff can be stored in a safe, easily accessible place for future reference. 

You can view all my videos on YouTube right here.