[YDL2.0 EXCERPT] Don't Let Complexity Creep Destroy Your System

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Complexity creep is the evil force that has one goal: to destroy your productivity system. Here's an excerpt from my upcoming book, Your Digitial Life 2.0.

Your Digitial Life is out Monday 11th December 2017. Find out more right here

"The biggest risk to your system is ‘complexity creep’. This book has outlined a way to build a basic system. A framework if you like for you to build on and customise to fit your way of working and thinking. With that responsibility, though, comes the need for constraint. With this responsibility, comes the serious risk you will start adding things to your system in the belief it will make it better. The chances are it will not. Anything that may make your system better needs to be focused on one single area; how fast will it allow me to add a task, an event or a note? It’s really about speed.
If you maintain a strict rule to keep a hard edge between your to-do list manager, your calendar and your note-taking application you are certainly on your way to developing a system that will work for you for many years to come. The mistake I see so many making is they begin to try and merge everything together. In my experience when you do that, when you try to use one app to maintain your whole system, you are inviting in complexity and you will start to compromise the integrity of your system.  It is possible to create your whole system around one app, Evernote for example, will do it but in doing this you will have to make compromises and build workarounds in order for it to work. This is completely unnecessary. It is far better to use the tools you have for the purpose they were built for. After all, a Ferrari will tow a horse trailer, but why would you do that when a Land Rover Discovery would do the job so much better?" 

The Essential Skill Everyone Needs in 2017.

In 2017, the business world is in the middle of some dramatic changes. With the growth in digital technologies, automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, most of the jobs we recognise in the world today will have disappeared by 2025. Some will have been replaced by machines, other will have evolved into something completely different. The question to ask yourself is: are you prepared for this future?

To protect yourself in this changing world, developing key, so called soft skills is vital. The ability to communicate, the ability to make decisions quickly and to solve problems creatively are just some of the skills you need to develop, but by far and away the most important skill is that of personal productivity. Personal productivity means you are able to manage all the work that comes your way, handle all the distractions from your smart phone, colleagues and computer without missing anything and not becoming overwhelmed and stressed. If you cannot do that, you will not survive in the future business world.

To survive, you will need to know how to get the most out of your technology and to give yourself time and space to grow yourself professionally and personally. You need to become the master of technology and not allow technology master you. Companies today are not going to give you that kind of training. In the past, when employees stayed with a company for 10 to 15 years, companies were willing to invest in the personal development of their staff. After all, it benefitted the company in the long-term. Today, with so many employees staying with a company for no more than two or three years, it is no longer economic for companies to invest in the personal development of their employees. Your personal development has now become your responsibility.

The trouble with personal productivity is you do not become productive overnight. It takes time and it takes deliberate action to get your life organised and together. You need to read, study systems and learn what works best for you and your lifestyle. None of this will happen unless you take action. Too often I find people thinking they do not need to change, that they are okay and job losses only happen to other people not themselves. Sadly, over the coming years that is not going to be true. The people who survive are the people who have taken it upon themselves to get the training that will develop their skills so they can adapt to the changing nature of work. And the work is going to change. Autonomous cars, Robots and AI are here already and their development is not going to be over a period of decades, it’s going to be over a period of months. Uber intend not to be ‘employing’ drivers by 2030 — that’s only thirteen years away!

Just reading books and taking part in courses will not, on their own, help you. To really get the most out of the courses you take and the books you read, you need to make a determined decision to change the way you work, to be focused and to set up the systems you need to become a master of productivity. You also need to be reading about the latest developments in technology, experimenting, learning new applications that may, or may not, help you to do your work more efficiently and more creatively and most of all, be open to change.

It is not difficult, but it does take time. Taking time to really get your life organised and productive is not something you should take lightly. Your very survival in the business world and your career will depend on it.

I teach a lot of 40 plus year olds and many of them have settled into a career destroying mindset of “I don’t understand all this new technology”. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it. You have no choice but to learn how to understand and use it. You need to be better than the Snapchat generation at using the technology that is at your fingertips, and if you are not, your responsibility to yourself is to schedule some regular time to learn how it all works and how it can benefit you and your organisation.

Once you decide to get yourself organised and more productive, the benefits are more than just professional. You will experience less stress, less time having to work late and your creativity will reach new heights. Lack of creativity is caused by all the stuff your brain is trying to remember. Once you get all that stuff out of your head and into a trusted external place, your brain will be free to think of new, creative ways of improving yourself, your business and your life.

It takes a huge commitment to become organised (just take a look at the above video with David Allen, the GTD creator). It will not happen with the reading of just one book, it will take many months of experimenting, making a few mistakes and learning. But the effort is worthwhile. Once you get organised, you no longer forget things, you will not wake up in the middle of the night suddenly remembering you should have replied to an email from your boss but you had forgotten about it, and nothing will stop you from achieving your goals. You will be more focused, more creative, less stressed and you will achieve much more both at work and in your personal life. The effort is truly worthwhile.

As ever, it’s up to you. You can carry on as you are, hoping one day you will get the promotion you desire, or you can take positive action now and and take control of your future and make the necessary changes to your lifestyle so you move yourself closer each day to the life you want to lead in the future. Your future is in your hands.

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.

Amazon | iBooks | Website

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 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 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 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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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 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 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:


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…


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.

Amazon iBooks | Website

Why You Should Start With Built In Apps

This article first appeared on my Medium blog

Over the last week I have seen a lot of posts from people bemoaning the problems they have with third party apps. These are often related to note taking apps, todo list managers, calendars and email programs. I too have looked at many of the third party apps out there and felt the same kind of frustration. Often the frustration is the app in question does not support one function or another, others are complaints about bugs or broken promises from the developer.

Many of the built in apps that come with your device are surprisingly robust and feature rich. One example is Apple’s Mail app. The app is built in all Apple’s devices and talks across the system with almost all the other functionality with that device. For example, if I want to send a file to a colleague, it is as easy as pulling up the share sheet, selecting mail and pressing send. Another is iMessages, particularly with the update to iMessage in the last IOS release. This app does almost everything any other messaging app can do. If most of your friends and colleagues are also on IOS, it really makes no sense using a third party app. All these built in apps are financially free, they are generally bug free and they work straight out of the box, particularly if you have an iCloud or Google account.

Unfortunately, many third party apps come with a cost. That cost is either financial in the form of a one off purchase or a subscription. Or it is a time cost because you need to create an account and set it up for it to work on your device. Then you often find a feature you relied on before, does not exist on your new, third party app. This can be disheartening once you find you relied a lot on that particular feature (as I did recently with Newton Mailand AirMail with Apple’s Automation function)

If you are a productive person, you will likely have a fully functioning calendar, an easy to access note taking app and a todo list manager. Microsoft, Google and Apple all have these apps and it would be remiss of you not to give them a try before you go out and spend your hard earned money on a third party app. I am an Apple user. All my devices run on Apple OS. The calendar is excellent, the note taking app is top notch and the reminders todo list manager is very robust, taking care of my family’s grocery list via it’s sharing function. All these apps work well together, in fact they were created to work together.

Two areas I have farmed out to third party apps are my todo list manager and my note taking app. But, these were farmed out before the built in apps were updated to their present levels. If I were starting over now, I would certainly be using Apple Notes as my note taking app and as the folks over at Getting Things Done have produced an excellent manual on setting up GTD using Reminders it is likely I would be using Reminders as my GTD app.

I think part of the problem with us wanting to buy the latest and greatest third party app is we are looking for an app to actually do our work for us. That is not going to happen in the near future, and perhaps not in the distant future either. We will always need to do the work. We will always need to decide if we want to have a coffee with that person or not. Our app might be able to suggest a date and time, but it is still going to be us who decides whether or not we want to actually do that meeting. The same applies to our todo list manager. We might ambitiously have fifty tasks on our list for today, but if we wake up with a stinking hangover and the start of the latest flu bug, we are not going to get those fifty tasks done and our todo list manager is not going to know you have a hangover and flu.

This also is true with email apps. No email app is going to write the email for you. You still have to do that. Of course some of these apps will allow you to postpone sending the email, or allow you to ’snooze’ the email (the most pointless feature ever, in my humble opinion) but at its core an email app needs to allow you to read and send email. All email apps do that, including the built in apps, and the built in apps are free!

So my advice for anyone setting out on the road to productivity is to use the built in apps on your device first. Try them out, create your system around them and then, if you find you need additional features, have a look around for something different.

Being productive and on top of your work and life doesn’t have to be expensive. Most people do not need all these third party apps. The built in apps in most cases work just as well as any other app, and in many cases better. I do accept for power users, a third party app may give additional functionality and that is fine. But before you start spending your money, give the built in apps a try first. You just might be surprised what they can do for you.

Don't Bet On The "Next Big Thing"

This article first appeared on my Medium blog

As ever in the world of tech, we are hearing a lot about the “next big thing”. These days it’s all about Self driving cars, virtual and augmented reality. A few years ago it was all about The Internet of Things, and before that it was smart TVs and 3D movies. Yet, even a cursory look around will show you that the ‘experts’ were wrong. There is no clamouring around for the brightest, smartest TV, few movies are made 3D, certainly not the blockbuster movies, and there does not seem to be a long line of people queuing up for the latest smart refrigerator, toaster or light bulb.

I’m certainly not suggesting the latest big thing will not become the norm in the future, but what I have observed is that so called experts usually get it wrong, and the reason they get it wrong is because many of these ‘big things’ have not considered the human element. All they have done it taken a new technology and said “this is cool let’s make something with it.”

Technology has a habit of going off into places we never thought of. The internet was created for military purposes, yet eventually found its way in to the lives of everyone with a computer. Even the humble computer was never thought of as a home computer. It was originally created to crack German codes during the Second World War. Even the mobile phone was created as a business tool. It’s creators never thought of people using it as a personal phone or to send messages to our loved ones and watch TV shows and sports games.

And that’s the thing about technology. It rarely ends up doing what it was originally designed to do. When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, there was no App Store. That came a year later and it was only after the launch of the App Store that the real potential of the smart phone was unveiled. People were able to customise their phones with the apps they wanted and used.

Technology commentators could be accused of being a little obsessed. Take for example the self-driving car. Yes, it is an impressive feat of technology. But why would you want a self-driving car? I love driving. I love the feeling I have when I am in control. I steer the car in the direction I want it to go and it goes in that direction. I press my right foot down and it goes a little faster. I love that feeling. So do many other people. So why take that pleasure away from us? What I don’t like is traffic jams. So why can’t these amazingly talented people come up with technology that ensures traffic lights change in a way that cars move forward at a constant, optimal rate? They don’t because traffic lights and traffic flow are not cool. And for those who think self-driving cars will allow them to go to the pub for a few beers without having to worry about how much they drink, think again. Drink driving laws are worded in a way that means you are breaking the law if you are “in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.” So even if your car has the ability to drive itself, you are still in charge of that car and therefore you are still breaking the law.

These days I see a lot of articles about virtual and augmented reality, and the exciting future these new technologies will bring to our lives. I too can see a lot of potential for these technologies, but I fear most of the development with these technologies are again not taking in to account human behaviour. Pokemon Go is a great game, but it is only a game. It does not improve our lives in any way. And if the technology used in Pokemon Go is developed into other areas, I do hope it does not involve having to lift my phone up, point it down a street and allow an app to tell me what’s down there, or even worse put on a pair of goggles. I’m afraid humans will not use the technology if it involves so many steps or hideous eyewear. Humans just do not adopt new technologies like that.

We need technologies that will do the hard work for us in the background. Humans love convenience. Having to open apps and point a device is not convenient. I think this is why despite all our devices having video cameras and microphones enabling us to communicate in real time with our colleagues and partners anywhere in the world, so many people still commute to a physical office every day, sit at a desk with an archaic desktop computer, printing out emails and other documents on paper, so we can sit around using a highlighter pen to highlight interesting words and sentences. Which when you think about it is just so old fashioned. We did that in the 1990s when we did not have video cameras in our phones and the cost of an international call was prohibitively expensive. We could not share documents in the cloud and did not have real time updating and editing. But, using a physical highlighter pen on a piece of paper is wonderfully convenient and the process to print out a document is so easy, usually involving the press of two buttons.

If we are going to push for a real twenty-first century work environment, using the technology we have freely available, developers are going to have to figure out how to make using that technology more convenient than the old habits it wants to replace. I for one use technology to allow me to be able to freely roam around doing the work I love. But most people are not like me. Even the slightest barrier to entry, will stop the average person from adopting new technology. Having to learn how to use something is one of the biggest barriers I know. Yes, a teenager might use Snapchat every day and is perfectly comfortable talking via video to their friends. But teenagers are not the leaders in work environments. When these teenagers get to the office, they are forced to arrive at the office at 9:00am, to use machines developed in the 1990s, to physically go to a meeting room for a meeting and print out PowerPoint files for their forty or fifty something year old boss. To these teenagers, all this modern technology is just for fun and for communicating with their friends. Surely it would be better if it were these forty or fifty something year old bosses who were the catalysts for change, to be the ones adopting the new technologies to make their working environments more efficient and better at adopting new technologies so that their workforce can spend more time with their loved ones and less time in the office.

Technology is supposed to make our lives better, more convenient and less stressful. But when technology needs a lot of learning, a lot of button pressing and still means we have to be in a static office eight to ten hours a day, then it fails. We can all do better here. The developers can make it easier to learn and more intuitive. Managers and leaders can make it a policy to remove remote access to printers, make their workers have to go to another floor to pick up their printed out sheets if necessary, make all meetings video conference meetings (or better still ban all meetings) and stop this stupid insistence on being at the office at 9:00am every day.

Let’s use the technology we have today properly, and for what it was developed for, and develop the new technologies for a better life for all.