Why The Backend Work Matters

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A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went on a family trip. It was only a three-day trip, but before going I needed to do some backend work.

What do I mean by backend work? The backend work is going through your calendar and to-do list manager and looking to see what is coming up over the next week. It also means looking at what work you would normally do on the days you will be away and scheduling time to do the work before you go. The worst thing you can do is put it off until you return. When you return you will have the work you didn’t do as well as all the additional work that mounted up while you were away — not a good way to restart your work when you return.

Because trips like this are planned, I knew it was coming up and because I am always looking ahead to see what is coming up and seeing where I can relieve any potential pressure and bottlenecks before they occur, I was able to schedule my YouTube video recordings, podcast recording and editing and write the following week’s blog post before I went away on the trip.

It sounds like a lot of work to do, but when you have the backend processes in place, it is a lot easier than it sounds. Yes, there is an increased volume of work for a few days, but when you make full use of your calendar and to-do list manager, it is a lot easier than you think.

The alternative is to not plan ahead and have my family break ruined by worrying about when I will have time to catch up with my work. To me, that is not an option. I would much rather have an intense few days before my break, followed by a fully engaged, worry-free time with my family.

That’s a managed interruption to a normal working routine, what about unplanned interruptions? A crisis at work, a loved one becoming seriously ill or your car breaking down on the way to work?

This is where having the processes in place to handle these crises comes in. I often tell my coaching clients to stress test their systems once they have them up and running. It’s fine for a system to work when you are doing your normal day to day work — when things are running smoothly — the real test is how well your system works when things go crazy. And things going crazy is a guaranteed part of life. For example, When you do the weekly review, you can look ahead and see what your schedule looks like for the week ahead. You can review all your projects and identify work that needs doing next week and schedule time for doing that work. You can also build in flexible time to handle crises and any work you have not managed to get done or finished.

This week, for example, I have an article to write for Lifehack. The deadline for that is Tuesday evening. I don’t have articles to write for Lifehack every week so it is additional work. Whenever I get work like this, I look on my calendar for 3 hours. I know I need two hours to write the draft and a further hour to edit. So, I scheduled 2 hours for writing the article Monday afternoon and will edit the article on Tuesday afternoon. The backend work is knowing how long an article will take to write and scheduling that time on my calendar. The writing of the first draft will be an objective for Monday so if the day goes crazy, I know it will get done — my objectives always get done. That’s the power of the 2+8 Prioritisation system. Each day have two objective tasks and eight focus tasks to complete.

Having the backend work done, knowing what you have to do and by when, scheduling the appropriate amount of time on your calendar to get it done and then doing it, that’s making sure you have the backend work done.

So while you might think taking time out of your already busy schedule to plan and have in place a system to make sure the work gets done is time you do not have, the alternative — not having a plan or a system — is what is causing you to feel too busy, overwhelmed and stressed. If you want to end that perpetual feeling of being too busy, you should stop, sit down and gather together everything you have to do and make a schedule to get it done. Put in place a system that prevents interruptions — blocking your calendar, turning off notifications on your phone for an hour or so and listening to some soothing music — you don’t have to disappear completely, just for an hour or two each day. Don’t worry, your boss, customers and colleagues can wait.

The backend work — putting in place the planning and system — is a guaranteed way for you to finally rid yourself of the daily overwhelm and stress. It is your key to having the freedom to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit the like button below 👍 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.

The Fun You Can Have By Finding Your Own Solutions.

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Every day I see on my Twitter feed requests to app developers to add more features. Things like adding a calendar view to a to-do list app or making an app more GTD (Getting Things Done) friendly. And yes some of these features might be nice, but when you reach out to other people to solve your problems for you you are missing out on an opportunity to learn some very valuable lessons.

There’s a very good reason for not wanting developers to solve your problems for you and that is learning for yourself how to overcome minor issues. If life was as easy as requesting someone else solve your difficulties for you, we would already have been replaced by robots and computers. We haven’t and that’s because we have the ability to solve problems far better than a robot or computer can.

One of the biggest drags on a productivity system is not learning how to use your tools. If all you do when you come up against an issue that your current app does not solve is go looking for another app that will do what you currently want to do, you will only find later the new app doesn’t do something else you want to do so you switch again. You end up in a never-ending cycle of app switching and never spending any time learning how to get the most out any single app. Often all you need to do is spend a few minutes on Google and you are likely to find a workaround or a simple solution to your issue.

One of my favourite past times is to take a problem, look at my existing apps and figure out a solution to the problem only using the tools I already have. In almost every situation I have been able to find a workable solution. I have never felt the need to reach out to developers and ask them to add another feature that would solve my problem.

One of the most important skills one could have is the ability to solve problems. We see this again and again in articles about skills a person needs to protect themselves from automation. Asking someone to solve a problem or difficulty for you does not help you learn how to solve problems. You are just delegating responsibility to someone else. Instead, why not spend some time and figure out a solution yourself using only the existing tools you have.

When the Apollo 13 space mission developed problems and put the astronauts in a life or death situation, Mission Control did not ask developers of the software to come up with a fix or a new feature. What happened was a team of amazingly talented people, together with the astronauts, looked at what resources they had available and came up with a fix that would get them safely back to earth.

This scene from the film, Apollo 13 demonstrates perfectly how this team of incredibly talented people solved problems.

It’s easy to write on a resume “I have good problem-solving skills”, but the question is: do you? Is your idea of problem-solving reaching out to developers and asking them to create a fix for you, or is it something you relish solving for yourself?

Real problem solving is taking a set of imperfect circumstances and finding a solution using only the things you have available to you. Problem-solving is not about asking someone else to fix it for you.

If you want to become better organised and more productive, then focus more on your system and less on the tools. Once you have mastered the art of collecting, organising and doing (C.O.D) and can do everything you have planned to do each day (the 2+8 Prioritisation System) without any difficulty, you will find you have less need for the tools you use and your productivity will skyrocket.


Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit that like button below 👍 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 Avoid Overwhelm By Only Allowing 10 Tasks per Day.

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Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people, in the forums I follow, commenting on how overwhelmed they feel and how many tasks they have on their to-do list every day. I’ve seen numbers ranging from twenty to sixty tasks per day and I know, from my own experience, that these numbers are not sustainable and what will happen is people will end up rescheduling many of these tasks because they won’t get done.

The problem with a long list of to-dos is the very sight of such a list leads to that feeling of overwhelm. Looking at a list of thirty to-dos first thing in the morning is just going to put you off wanting to even start attacking such a list. Instead what you need is a list of around ten items that will leave you feeling inspired to get started.

Why ten?

We live in a world of distraction. No matter who you are or what you do, you are going to get distracted. Email brings new tasks, bosses and colleagues ask us to do little pieces of work for them and clients and customers demand attention. These are unavoidable. When you start the day with a list of thirty tasks something is going to break, and usually that something is your task management. When you assign yourself a maximum of ten tasks a day on your to-do list two things happen. The first is you have time to deal with the distractions that will come in and second you will be forced to prioritise what you want to get done that day which helps you to focus on the things that are meaningful to you.

The Ten Task Maximum

The ten task maximum does not include your regular daily routines. If you have a morning routine of exercise, planning and learning for example, then the morning routine would not be included in your ten tasks. A morning routine is just something you do every morning and if you do it regularly — ie every morning — you should not need any reminder on your to-do list to do it.

I have a morning routine that involves 45 minutes of studying and 15 minutes of meditation. These two tasks are not on my to-do list, but the one hour is scheduled on my calendar as my self-development hour. It is a non-negotiable part of my day. I have been following this routine for nearly a year now and I really do not need to be reminded to do it in my to-do list. All I need to see is at 5 AM tomorrow morning I will do my studying followed by fifteen minutes of meditation.

I also have around eight routines admin tasks that need doing at the end of every day. Little things like writing up student feedback, updating attendance records and tracking new students in my learning centre. These routine tasks are on my to-do list, but I filter them out and they only show up at the end of the day when I need to see them. For the majority of the day, I do not need to see these tasks because they cannot be done until the end of the day and they act as little reminders to make sure I have done them. I do not include them on my list of ten tasks.

What I want to do is see ten tasks (or less if possible) when I begin the day and those ten tasks are meaningful and advance my work or projects in a positive way. I have a daily calendar event on my calendar for doing admin tasks (8:00 pm to 8:50 pm) and so I know they will get done.

Time Blocking

Because it is inevitable we will be distracted by something each day, be that a request from a customer or a demand from a boss, blocking an hour or two off each workday to get on with the ten tasks you have assigned yourself is crucial. All of us should be able to find an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon for undisturbed focus work. There really isn’t anything so urgent it cannot wait an hour or so. Of course, if you work in the emergency room of a hospital or are a firefighter, then you are not going to be able to do this, but any information worker who cannot block off an hour or so each day has bigger problems than just a long list of to-dos.

In twenty-five years of working in the legal and education professions, I have never once come across a situation where I was not able to block one hour off to get some focused work done. I have some language students who sometimes tell me they are too busy to do their English class, yet they are always able to find ninety minutes for their lunch (officially they have one hour, but they go for lunch at 11:30 am and they don’t return to their desks until close to 1 pm.) When we need to, we can find the time. It’s just a question of priorities.

Priorities

And that nicely leads me to the biggest benefit of only allowing ten tasks on your to-do list each day. It forces you to prioritise. We all have a lot of things we would like to do each day, but we only have twenty-four hours to do them. We cannot do everything at once. When you are limited to just ten meaningful tasks each day you are forced to think about which of the tasks you have to do will have the biggest positive impact on your day and your active projects. When you choose tasks that will move your projects forward each day you are making a bigger impact on your projects than if you were randomly picking away at a long list of tasks. You become more focused on the outcomes and less focused on the trivialities. Ultimately, projects need to be completed and focusing on the tasks that will get you to completion rather than the little insignificant tasks will get you to the outcome you want faster.

Having a long list of daily to-dos does not make you a hero. All it does is cause you to feel overwhelmed and that leads to procrastination. Reducing your to-do list to the ten most important tasks each day allows you to begin the day focused and energised and ready to move your projects towards the outcomes you desire faster. You will procrastinate less and you will still have time each day to deal with the unforeseen interruptions and distractions that are an inevitable part of living in the twenty-first century.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit that like button below 👍 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.

The Brilliance and Weakness Of GTD And The 5 AM Club

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GTD — Getting Things Done by David Allen — is a great book with an equally great message. The principles and methods detailed in the book are sound, they work and have helped millions of people around the world to get organised and to become less stressed.

But as with all things as good as GTD, the weakness in it is how people apply its principles. One good example is David Allen’s definition of a project which is, anything that involves two or more tasks is a project. Taken literally that means making an appointment for a haircut could become a project. You need to find your hairdresser’s telephone number and then call them to make the appointment. That’s two tasks. That’s a project.

But really is it a project? Those two tasks could be done sequentially in less than five minutes. Do you really need to create a project for these tasks?

The missing part of Getting Things Done is the part where common sense comes in. Were I to make a hair appointment, or a dental or doctors appointment, it would not become a project. Common sense tells me that to make an appointment to see my dentist can be done with a single task — make appointment to see dentist — even though there may be two or three tasks involved.

Another example where taking what is written in a book too literally can be found in Robin Sharma’s brilliant latest book The 5 AM Club. The book’s premise is that you wake up at 5 AM, do twenty minutes hard, intense exercise (enough to make you sweat), then do 20 minutes planning — preferably in your journal — and finish off the hour with 20 minutes studying, or self-learning.

I adopted the 5 AM Club principles early last year but modified them to better apply to my life and my circumstances. I wrote about my experiences and how I was getting a tremendously positive experience from it, yet I was informed by a well-meaning reader I could not be a “member” of Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club because I do not follow the 20/20/20 principle. I do not do 20 minutes exercise followed by 20 minutes planning then 20 minutes learning. I disagree. Exercise first thing the morning causes me to feel dizzy and nauseous and I have found that planning my day is better done the night before. It removes anxiety and stress and leaves me waking up with excitement, energy and purpose. What my reader misses is that the 5 AM Club and GTD are not about the steps. They are about giving you a framework in order to achieve a desired end result.

Whether I do my exercise at 5 AM or 2 PM as I do, doesn’t matter. What matters is I do the exercise every day. Whether I do my planning at 10:00 PM or at 5:20 AM doesn’t matter. What matters is I do the planning every day. I achieve the same results as if I did my exercise and planning at 5:00 AM. And that is the point.

I wake up at 5 AM and do 45 minutes studying and 15 minutes meditation. It works for me. It leaves me feeling refreshed, energised and ready to make each day the best day of my life. Which is exactly what the 5 AM club is all about.

And the same goes for Getting Things Done. Whether you turn your hairdresser’s appointment into a project or treat it as a single task doesn’t really matter. What matters is you get your hair cut. Getting the work done is far more important than the process you have in place to tell you what needs doing.

We are all different, we all have different ways of doing things and we all think differently. What GTD and the 5 AM Club do is provide you with fantastic ideas and a framework to improve your life. How you implement those ideas into your life is up to you because those ideas need to work for you.

Pure GTD did not work for me. Too many things slipped through the cracks and my projects list became overwhelming. It took far too much time to maintain my system and it wasn’t until I broke away from treating every multiple task as a project that GTD really started working for me.

But at the core, my whole COD system is built on the foundations of GTD it’s just stripped down to work better for the way I think and work. Equally, the message in Robin Sharma’s book is about making a significant improvement in your life by waking up early and spending some time developing your mindset, heartset, healthset and soulset. I do that every day. It’s just I do things in a different order, an order that works better for me.

And that’s really the point. David Allen’s GTD and Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club have a fantastic message and they both give you ideas and strategies that can give you incredibly positive results. But you do need to take those principles and apply them to your life. If you start work at 5 AM in the morning, then perhaps you need to wake up at 3 AM and do your self-development work, or with GTD perhaps you want to redefine what a project is for you. It could be four or five steps before something becomes a project. The way you define it is less important. What is important is that you are capturing your stuff and then organising it in a way that is meaningful to you. That’s how you get to improve your life and that’s how to take the ideas you learn and apply them to your life to make positive change.

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.

Why You Should Not Be So Hard On Yourself.

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The pressure to be constantly on your best game and to always be producing, delivering and executing is intense these days. Not only are the expectations of other people placing us under pressure, but the pressure we apply to ourselves is relentless. There’s never any let-up and no drop in the pressure. Just constant demands, endless work and high expectations.

We are living, emotional beings that from time to time get upset, angry, feel tired and are just not in the mood to do the work expected of us. The push to standardise work — to make sure we are always following the SOP (standards of procedure) manual — has left us feeling we have to get the work finished on time every time to the exact same standard on time every time.

Take a step back.

I think It’s time to step back. Time to realise we are not machines. We have our own independent thoughts and feelings. Some days we are going to be on fire. On those days we can achieve an inordinate amount of work to the highest possible standards. Other days we are less energetic. Maybe we didn’t get a great night’s sleep, perhaps we had a fight with our loved one or a relative is seriously ill. There are many factors that can have a debilitating effect on the work we produce.

And that’s the point. We need to understand we cannot produce a consistent amount of work every single day. There will always be days when we are not at our best. We are human beings, affected emotionally by external events subjected to our own body’s biorhythms and our own body’s physical fragility and we need to become comfortable with that fact.

On days when you feel fantastic, take the opportunity to get a lot of work done. On days when you feel particularly fragile just focus on getting whatever you can do done. Small steps taken every day can lead to amazing destinations. You do not have to accomplish everything in one day. When you feel great, do a lot. When you feel not so great just do what you can.

You don’t have to be hyper-productive every day.

That’s a problem with the world today, we feel we have to be hyper-productive every single day and that’s simply not true. It’s not only not true, but it’s also impossible.

This is why we need to be less hard on ourselves. Accepting that there are days when we are not going to be as effective as we would like and instead of sitting at a computer screen and getting more and more frustrated with ourselves, we should give ourselves permission to get up and go out for a walk or just take a nap. Just do something different and that we want to do and feel like doing.

Each week I have a number of things I want to complete. This blog post for example usually gets written on a Monday morning and posted Wednesday morning. Although I like to get it written Monday morning, there’s absolutely no problem doing it Monday night or Tuesday morning if I am tired and not in the mood to write Monday morning. It’s far better I write when I am in the best mood for writing rather than forcing myself to do something my heart is not in the mood for. This need to feel under pressure all the time is what leads to break down and that is not something we should be aiming for.

There are, of course, things you can do to maximise your energetic and productive self. Make sure you get enough sleep. Pulling all-nighters three times a week will just lead to burn out and a terrible state in which to get quality work done. Likewise, if you are filling your stomach with greasy, sugary food all day this will impact your brain’s ability to stay alert.

A few small steps…

To maximise the number of days you perform at your best make sure get enough sleep and drink enough water. These are the basics. On top of that make sure you get enough exercise each day — and no, that does not mean going to the gym or doing a 10k run every day. It just means you do at least thirty minutes walking each day — eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid alcohol. Take regular breaks throughout the day. Trying to sit at a desk for several hours without a break every day won’t produce more work than a person who works for ninety minutes and takes a thirty-minute walk. It’s likely you will produce less work and the work you do produce will be of a lower quality than the person taking regular breaks.

And it is not just healthy physical habits but also mental habits too. Avoid stressful situations. Understand you do not, and will not, have the answers for every problem and never allow yourself to get upset, stressed or angry about events you have no control over. Accept negative events and situations for what they are and deal with them. As the Stoics would tell you, you may not have control over the events that happen to you, but you do have control over how you react to them. Letting small inconveniences annoy or cause you to get angry will not change the event.

Stop putting yourself under constant daily pressure to produce and execute. When you feel you need a rest, take a rest, even if it is only for an hour or so. Just take that time out. When you come back to what you were doing you will be refreshed and energised and ready to produce amazing work. Life should always be about enjoying what we do every day and being proud of what we produce. So be proud, stress-free and well rested.


Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit that like button below👍 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.

Why You Should Be Scheduling Me Time every day.

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It’s very easy to be dragged kicking and screaming through the day by events outside our control. From bosses demanding more work, partners and family members asking us to do little favours for them and friends on social media asking (indirectly, of course) to like their latest picture of them drinking a cup of coffee. We all fall into this routine and for many, it becomes the sum total of their lives. Living their day to day existence on the demands of other people.

The damage this does in the long-term is incalculable. It’s not that running around after our highly strung and disorganised boss for one day is going to hurt our career prospects or damage our health, but when this is repeated every day it does damage our wellbeing and our own personal development because it stops us from working on our own lives, doing the things we enjoy and spending time with the people we love and care about.

One of my language student’s average attendance rate is one class every six weeks. She’s supposed to have a class every week, but she always has some crisis that needs attending to. It could be her boss has just given her some urgent work to do, or one of her colleagues is upset and needs someone to talk to. I’ve heard all the excuses. From having to go to the bank to not feeling very well. She’s mastered the art of finding excuses.

The thing is, learning English is something she decided to do as a valuable self-development activity. Learning a language might not be urgent or result in an immediate benefit. But it is something you do for yourself. Likewise, if you were learning anything such as a musical instrument or martial art. None of these will result in an immediate benefit. Before you receive any benefit there will be a lot of hard work, consistency and frustration. But the benefit to you by pushing through those difficult times is worth it.

Anchors keep you grounded.

It is important to have a few anchors for your life. Things like having a morning routine dedicated to your own self-care. Having time dedicated to physical exercise each day, quality time to spend with your family and an evening routine again dedicated to your self-care. These are essentials that should be non-negotiable. Your boss, customers, friends and colleagues should not be allowed to take that time away from you and the only way that happens is if you let them.

The skill is learning to protect your time and to say no. Of course it easy for me to write that, much more difficult to do, but then learning to drive a car is difficult if you have never driven a car before. With practice, driving becomes an automatic response. You don’t need to think about starting the engine and driving off after a few weeks of consistent practice and the same goes for learning to say no. At first, it will be very hard — uncomfortable even — and you will feel guilty, but after a little time your default response will change from yes to no and then you will find it easy to protect your time and the activities you have decided are important to your life.

Learn the skill of saying “no”.

And that is the skill — turning your default “yes” into a default “no”. We are programmed from an early age to please people and a part of pleasing people is to say “yes” to their requests. If you want to take control of your day, though, you are going to have to default to “no” and to protect your valuable time. Unlike money and material things where if you lose those you can always get them back, time is something once gone has gone forever.

I protect two-and-a-half hours each day for “me time”. I have forty-five minutes for self-development and fifteen minutes for quiet reflection every morning. I also have thirty minutes dog walking and fifteen minutes for planning each day as well as forty-five minutes for exercise. That’s just two-and-a-half hours out of twenty-four. Of course, in that twenty-four hours, I need to include sleep, washing and eating time, but time focussed on me is just two-and-a-half hours. If I am available for my bosses, colleagues, friends and family outside of those hours each day, then I have nothing to feel guilty about. And that is how I see it. I dedicate two-and-a-half hours to me-time every day and outside that time I am available to anyone else if I can help them.

Those two-and-a-half hours each day keep me grounded and focused on what is important to me. I see them as a vital part of my personal wellbeing and would never consider sacrificing even one minute for anyone else except in an extreme emergency.

Saying “no” is not selfish.

It is not selfish to give yourself some me-time each day — in fact, I would argue it is vital to your own wellbeing — because when you take care of yourself you will always be in a better position to help other people with your energy, knowledge and strength. When your life is a spiral of drama, gloominess and negativity you are not going to be of much help to anyone. When your life is a beacon of energy, light and positivity you will inspire others to lift themselves up and be like you. That is not being selfish, that is giving back to the world at large and one very strong reason why you should be protecting your me-time every single day.

So how much time are you going to give yourself every day? What will you do with that time and how will you protect it from the demands of others? If you haven’t answered those questions yet, perhaps now would be a good time to do so.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit that like button below👍 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.

This is Why Your To-do List Isn’t Working.

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One of the best pieces of advice you can be given if you want to get yourself better organised and more productive is to write down everything you need to get done on a single list. That simple act of getting everything on your mind out and onto a list will immediately remove a lot of stress and give you a better sense of control.

Our brains are not very good at storing reminders and are terrible at reminding us to do something at the right time. I am sure you have noticed this when you discover you need to buy more coffee while making your morning cup of coffee, only to forget to do so when you come home at the end of the day. Your brain reminds you to buy more coffee when you go to your cupboard the next morning and try to make your morning coffee. Very frustrating and a good example of why you should not be relying on your brain to be your to-do list.

Creating an endless list

Unfortunately, when you do start to write your to-dos down the list can become endless. The initial brain dump can be very stress relieving, but it does raise other issues. The biggest of which is once you have all the things you have to do written down is completing those tasks. Sadly, life does not stop just because you have written everything down. Life continues and your to-do list continues to grow. If you are not completing your to-dos faster than to-dos are coming in your list is going to get longer and longer and that is why so many people give up writing to-do lists. It becomes a never-ending cycle.

This is one of the reasons why David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology has endured so long. It does not focus on one central list, it creates lists for the different areas of your life. A list of tasks for when you are working at your computer, a list for when you are at home and a list for when you are with your partner for example. This methodology reduces the number of tasks on your task list to only those tasks you can complete now because you either have the tool or are in the right place or with the right person to complete the task.

Be very clear about what you want to do.

There is another reason why to-do lists sometimes fail and that is the way you are writing your tasks. If you write “coffee” onto your to-do list, it is not clear what you need to do. If you have a crazy day of meetings and crises, when you see the word “coffee” on your list at the end of the day it can be hard to immediately understand what you need to do about coffee. Likewise if you write “banking” on your to-do list on Friday afternoon with the intention of doing something at the bank on Monday, when Monday comes round and you see the word “banking” on your list, you are going to have to think what you have to do about “banking” and often you will have completely forgotten what that was.

To overcome this, change the way you write your tasks by adding an action verb. For example, instead of writing “coffee”, write “buy more coffee on way home” or instead of writing “banking” write “update bank book at bank”. Keep it simple and keep it clear.

I understand when you collect a task you are often in a hurry and this is why doing a mini-review at the end of the day is important. You may have collected a task into your inbox which says “Jane design approval” so when you do your mini-review you can expand the task to something like “talk to Jane about next month’s article design approval”.

When I sat down at my desk this morning, I saw the task “write first draft of this week’s blog post”. It was clear and left me in no doubt about what I needed to do. Had I just written “blog post”, that could have meant many things. It could have meant I needed to edit a blog post, or read a blog post or find a suitable image for a blog post.

When you write tasks out in a clear, action orientated way, you create lists that give you a much better indication of what you need to do and how long it will take. Writing a first draft of a blog post takes me around ninety minutes. Going to the bank to update a bank book would take around twenty minutes and buying coffee on the way home from work would take five or ten minutes. This means when I look at my to-do list for the day, I not only know instantly what I need to do, I also have a good idea how long my tasks are going to take me.

Taking the time to create a to-do list that is clear will work better for you. No longer will you need to stop and think what you meant when you originally wrote the task, you will know immediately and you will find you will be able to better plan out your day giving you less stress and less overwhelming.



Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, please hit that like button below👍 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.

The Secret To Greater Productivity Is To Focus On Less.

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When I was a little boy, my mother used to tell me my eyes were bigger than my stomach. This was because I always wanted more food than I was capable of eating in one sitting. And just like your eyes being bigger than your stomach, your thinking about how much you can do each day is bigger than you can actually do.

Over-enthusiasm causes problems later.

Often, when we start to get ourselves organised we create a long list of to-dos and immediately feel better having got everything written down. Then we begin to tackle those tasks and every time we look at the list our hearts sink and a feeling of overwhelm descends. From there it’s just a short walk to procrastination hell.

For those who have followed to principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the idea is to break everything down into bite-sized chunks organised by context so things don’t feel overwhelming, unfortunately, long lists of to-dos do just that, they create a sense of overwhelm. Just going to see a film at the cinema could create a list of ten to fifteen things. In reality, all you need is “Find out when Wendy can go to see Bohemian Rhapsody” and “book tickets to see Bohemian Rhapsody”. Two tasks. I would not even create a project for that. I would just add them to my family area of focus holder.

And that’s it really. Occasionally in our over-excitement to create to-dos and projects we fill our to-do list managers with a lot of unnecessary tasks and projects.

Look for the shortest route to completion.

What you should be asking yourself is: “how do I get from where I am now to where I want to be in the shortest distance and time?” In our going to the cinema example that would be simply two tasks — not several tasks such as “check calendar for free evenings”, “find out the bus timetable” and “decide what seats to book”. When you break things down into such finite detail you end up with an overwhelmingly long list and rather than make you more productive, it is much more likely to turn you into a habitual procrastinator.

If you want to become more productive, then shorten your lists. Focus more on what you want to achieve and less on the individual tasks.

Imagine you have a report to complete. Many people will create tasks such as:

  • talk to Fiona about 2018 sales

  • discuss with Terry any issues related to customer support.

  • finalise the design with Annie

  • ask Sarah about who to send the report to.

  • collect images for the report

  • write report

  • email report to recipients

Focus on the one task that will accomplish the most.

Now that’s all good and clear, but there’s a lot of tasks there that do not really need to be on your list at the start. The most important task there is “write the report” that’s the goal with this project. All the other tasks may need doing, but they are far less important than the writing of the report.

So a more effective list would be:

  • write the outline of the report

  • write report

  • finalise the report for distribution.

That gets the report written, and if you do need to insert images, get more information about sales and adjust the design you can do all that once the report is written. What you really need to do is get the report written. Images, design, customer support issues and sales data can be added once the bulk of the report has been written.

Creating lists in this way, reduces overwhelm and gets the biggest, and often the most difficult, part of the project done. Adjustments and tidying up can be done later.

This is how I manage all my projects including writing books. A book project, for instance, has around two tasks for the majority of the time:

  • write outline

  • continue writing book

Once I begin the editing, then other tasks will get added. Until the book is written, illustrations, charts and images can wait. It is only when the first draft of the book is written will I know exactly what illustrations and images I want to include in the book. So there is no point in having all those tasks at the beginning. The important thing is the first draft is written, without that everything else is pointless.

Structuring my projects in this way focuses me on the task that matters ( in this case writing the book) and keeps the less important tasks at bay. When the editing of the book begins, I will be adding many more tasks, but I am not dating those tasks. All I have is a task that says “continue editing book” and I will begin by opening up my list of things I want to add/subtract and just get on and edit.

To-do lists are great, and modern technology has embraced the humble to-do list and made collecting and organising tasks very easy. But just because it is easy, does not mean you have to go crazy and add more and more tasks to your list. You need to get creative and reduce your lists to keep them motivating, yet at the same time, they trigger what needs to happen next. The goal is to keep moving forward and making progress. A long list of tasks is only going to mean you have more choices to make, and that will inevitably cause you to delay starting doing what really matters to get the project completed.

Becoming more productive is nothing more than becoming more effective with your time. When you plan one or two things you must get done the next day and you start the day working on one of those tasks, you are going to have more days where you get important things done and feel satisfied with what you have accomplished at the end of the day. When you have a lot of those days adding up, you are going to find you start accomplishing a lot more with your available time.


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Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, please hit that like button 👍. It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.


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 Stop Procrastinating Once And For All.

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Many of you, I am sure, have big dreams. Things you want to accomplish in your life, goals to achieve and a lifestyle you want to create. Yet, despite having these dreams and aspirations, you never seem to be able to get round to doing anything about making them happen.

One of the biggest reasons for this is procrastination. We think about what we want, begin to give some thought about how we will achieve it and then get pulled away by another blog post on motivation or productivity or a video by Mel Robbins or Robin Sharma. It becomes a never-ending cycle. We sit down with the intention of finally doing something about what we want and get dragged off in directions we had not intended to go.

So how do you overcome this?

Be specific

Nine times out of ten the reason you never actually start doing what you need to do is that you have not clearly defined what it is you actually want. You may have a vague idea — to build a solid financial foundation for your future, for example — but it is only a vague idea and every time you sit down to develop a plan you begin to feel overwhelmed, so a Ray Dalio video on investing seems close enough to make you feel like you are doing g something.

To avoid this kind of procrastination you need to get very specific. What do you define as being financially secure? How much money do you need? What investments will you need to make? How will you grow your investments? Unless you answer these specific questions, you will always struggle to get started. The task will always feel too big. The solution is the break things down into bite-sized chunks so you can begin moving forward and building momentum.

Be intentional.

Whatever it is you want to achieve unless you are intentional about doing what you need to do to make it happen it will never happen. Knowing you need to start exercising is very different from intentionally starting to exercise. As Tony Robbins says, you need to “turn your shoulds into musts” “I should start exercising” is never going to happen. “I must start exercising” has a much greater chance of becoming reality.

To do this use your calendar. Whatever it is you want to change or begin doing, schedule time on your calendar to do it. Often to make something happen consistently, you need to have a regular time to do the activity. If that is exercise, get it on your calendar. If you want to master a new language, get your study time on your calendar. If you want to save more money, get putting money into your savings account on your calendar.

Whatever it is you want to do, be intentional. Set a day and a time when you will do what needs to be done and stick to it. You don’t accidentally roll out of bed at 5 AM in the morning and go out for a run. You go out running when you intend to wake up early and go out running.

Be consistent

Consistency is the key component of any person’s success. Without consistency, nothing will change. Saving $100 in January and then not saving anything else until July is not going to give you the results you want. Likewise, if your goal is to wake up early and you only get up early once a week, you are not achieving anything.

When you consistently schedule your activity on your calendar, when the time comes to do whatever you need to do arrives, you don’t need to think about what to do next, you will know exactly what you need to do and you will do it. I set my exercise time at 2 PM every Sunday to Thursday. I know exactly what I need to be doing at 2 PM on those days. It’s on my calendar and I know exactly what I want to do. There is no procrastination, no matter how tired I am or how cold or wet it is outside. If my calendar says I am going running at 2 PM today, that is exactly what I will do.

Be Aware.

Being aware of what you do when you procrastinate helps you to stop yourself from doing it. If you find yourself aimlessly scrolling through Instagram frequently, don’t let yourself go near Instagram until you have completed the task you want to complete. In extreme cases delete the app from your phone. Although this is not necessary if you cannot resist the urge, delete it. Alternatively, hide it on a screen you rarely go to so the temptation is not there.

Knowing what your procrastination habits are goes a long way to helping you avoid situations where you procrastinate. In the past, I have found following the political machinations in the UK one of my bad procrastinating habits. I ended up deleting all news feeds that contained UK political news and now only allow a limited amount through into my RSS reader, Reeder. That way, I am not distracted whenever I am doing research for courses or articles, but I still get to know about the antics of the politicians in Parliament when I catch up on the news later in the day.

Be disciplined.

Discipline, along with consistency, are two of the most powerful traits of highly successful people. Without discipline, you will never get yourself out exercising or sit down to study applied economics. You need discipline and the good news about discipline is it is like a muscle. The more you exercise it the stronger it becomes.

To develop your discipline all you need to do is start small. Begin by limiting your social media time to lunchtimes and evenings for thirty minutes, for example. Learn how to say “no” to yourself. When you find yourself procrastinating, say “no” to yourself and stop doing whatever it is you were procrastinating with. Go for a short walk, or get up off the sofa and do the dishes. Do something other than what it was you were procrastinating with.

Over time you will find yourself being stronger mentally and that will set you up to be much better at preventing yourself from procrastinating.

Procrastination is not all bad. There are times when your brain needs a distraction to be creative. Procrastination is bad when it is stopping you from doing your important work or is not allowing you to get on with achieving your goals. When that happens you need to take steps to stop yourself. Be specific about what you want to achieve, be intentional with your time consistently and be aware of your procrastination triggers These habits will allow you to develop the necessary discipline to be more focused on what you want and will take you further towards achieving the success you are capable of.

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit that like below👍 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 I Use My Apple Watch To Maximise My Productivity.

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One of the surprising things in my life is my Apple Watch has been the biggest influence on my personal productivity since I first got an Apple Watch in 2015. Surprising because what I first saw as a device to monitor my exercise very quickly became the centrepiece of my productivity collection process.

The integration of Siri with the Apple Watch a couple of years ago was the catalyst for the productivity gain. If I need to collect an idea or a task or just add an item to my shopping list, all I have to do is raise my wrist and add the task or item to my list. It could not be any simpler. No typing, no opening of apps, just raise and speak.

Whenever I am coaching people, I always stress the importance of making sure collecting your ideas, tasks and events has the least amount of resistance. Whether you are using a pen and piece of paper or your phone, you should be optimising your collecting process so it is fast and easy. When your collection process is fast and easy you are much more likely to collect everything and not ‘trust’ your brain to remember it. For me, the Apple Watch has made the collection process so much easier.

It is true I now collect a lot of things I later decide has no importance to me, but if you want a productivity system to really work for you, collecting everything is what matters. Later, when you do your processing you can decide, in a cool, reflective way, whether it is relevant to you or not. Deleting a task or idea is simple and only takes a split second. Not collecting that task or idea could cost you a lot of time and money later. So, an increased volume in my inbox is not something I worry about.

So, how do I use my Apple Watch to improve my overall productivity?

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Watch face.

On my watch face, I use a customised Infograph. At the top I have today’s weather by temperature — a useful piece of information in South Korea as the temperature can vary quite significantly — and my exercise app so when I begin my exercise the Workout app is easily accessed.

In the centre of the face, I have the calendar complication at the top. This gives me today’s date by number as well as my next appointment. This feature is fantastic as it means with just a glance I know exactly what I should be doing next and when. I have my deep work sessions on my calendar with a clear description of what I want to work on during that session so with a glance at my watch I can see exactly what I will be working on next.

Also, in the middle of the face, I have the times in LA and London. I work with clients in Europe and the US, so knowing what time it is in those times zones is a very useful piece of information to have at hand. I also have my activity tracker in the centre to let me know how I am doing on my activity metrics for the day — this helps me decide whether to get off the bus a few stops earlier to ensure I close all my activity rings for the day.

Finally, at the bottom of the face, I have the timer and Drafts Apple Watch app. I use the timer for when I am meditating and cooking. I like to do a fifteen-minute session of meditation in the morning after I have finished my studying and the timer means I do not need to looking at my watch to see how long I have been doing. Instead, I get a vibration from the watch to tell me fifteens minutes are up.

Drafts Apple Watch App.

Drafts is the hub of my collection process. I use Drafts to collect everything I want to collect. Even on my phone, I prefer opening up Drafts, typing or dictating whatever it is I want to collect and sending it off to its rightful place. On my watch its one tap and dictate. It’s incredibly fast and it maintains a discreet number on the watch face to tell me what is in my Drafts inbox. That helps me to know if there is anything in there that needs processing.

Optimisation.

Optimising the way you collect your stuff is how you continue to grow and develop your productivity system. Often it is the small adjustments to how you collect or how you organise your stuff that can bring you big improvements to your system. If you have a complicated array of systems to collect your stuff, you will resist collecting. If you are not collecting into a trusted place, you will resist organising and if you don’t know where anything is you will not be working on the work that matters.

Using the best tools you have available to collect and organise your life and work and making sure these tools are set up so they work best for you is one of the fastest ways you can improve your overall productivity system. If you have a few quiet days this month, take a look at your system and see where you can make some small improvements. Look at how you collect your tasks, events and ideas. Can you make that collection faster? How are you organising what you collected at the end of the day? Can you improve your Golden Ten time? After all, the goal with any productivity system is being able to spend more time doing so you can spend more time doing the things you love doing with the people you love doing them with.



Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit the like button below👍 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.