The Working With Podcast | Episode 50 | Organise by Project or Area of Focus?

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about organising either by project or area of focus

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 50 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Yes indeed! We’ve reached number 50 in this podcast. I want to thank all you wonderful people for sending in your questions over the year we’ve been running and to thank you all for making this podcast such a success. So thank you very very much.

Before we get into this week’s question I’d just like to let you know that last Friday I launched a brand new course, From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days! It’s a course I have been planning for around six months now and came about because so many people have asked me about how to get themselves more productive. But more importantly, I created this course because life is not just about work, life is about having fun, experiencing amazing events, visiting fantastic places and spending quality time with the people you love and care about. Work is just one part of our lives and it should never be the dominating part of our lives. Check out the details of the course—there’s a link in the show notes—I’d love to see you in the course. 

Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s time to hand you over the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:

This week’s question comes from Daniel. Daniel asks Carl, I recently saw your Todoist YouTube episode on the difference between projects and areas of focus. Could you tell me how you distinguish between the two ways of organising your to-do list? 

Thank you, Daniel, for the question and, Yes I would be delighted to share how I organise my to-dos between projects and areas of focus.

Firstly, I should explain the difference between projects and areas of focus. Traditionally, if you are following the GTD methodology for your productivity system, you would organise your tasks into projects. Projects act as a placeholder for your tasks—you group them together by their connecting project. For example, if you are planning a weekend trip with your family, the trip would become a project and the tasks you need to complete to organise the trip would be held in that project. 

An area of focus is a way to organise your tasks by the different roles you have. For instance, you may have a role as a parent, so you would have an area of focus called “parent” and any task related to your children would be placed inside your “parent” area of focus. Likewise, if you are a manager at work, you would have an area of focus called “manager” or “Management” and any task related to your role as a manager would be placed inside that area of focus. 

Now projects are quite simple to understand. However, projects can become a problem when you have too many. The problem I have found here is actually because of how the GTD book defines a project. According to David Allen (the author of Getting Things Done,) any task that requires more than one step is a project. This means that making an appointment to have your car serviced becomes a project—you need to decide where to take your car for the service (research) then find the number to make the appointment and then take the car in. That’s at least three tasks. That’s a project. But in our normal day to day life, booking our car in for a service really only needs our attention on one task - “book car in for service” — sure you still need to find the number, but that would only take a few minutes and calling the service centre is probably just a two minute task. The whole ‘project’ could very easily be completed in less than 5 minutes, outside the 2 minute rule (any task that would take two minutes or less to complete, do it now) 

A project like that on it’s own is not really the problem. The problem is when you have fifty or sixty projects like that. That’s when your project list becomes overwhelming and you start to miss deadlines and miss doing important tasks when they are due to be done. Not a good situation for a productive person such as yourself. 

Now, if you organised your tasks by areas of focus the same task—take the car in for service—would come under your area of focus, “maintenance”. Inside that area, you would just add the task “get car serviced” or “take car in for servicing”. You have a lot less decisions to make, and you will not be tempted to break down a simple task like getting your car serviced in to too many little steps. 

Now, I will confess this year, when I have done my three monthly systems review—when I review my whole system every three months and ask the question “how can I do this better?”—I have returned to the question of whether to go all in on areas of focus or stick with my hybrid system of projects and areas. I am still using a hybrid system, but my projects list has reduced a lot this year. I have found that almost all the tasks I collect each day can fall under an area of focus. My writing assignments from Lifehack, for example, have three tasks associated with each one. Plan out article, write article and edit article. I follow the same set of three tasks for my own blog and any guest posts I write. Plan, write, edit. So, any article I write now are placed in my “writer” area of focus. All I do is write out three tasks: Plan Lifehack article, Write Lifehack article and edit Lifehack article and drop them in my writing area of focus. I don’t need to create a separate project now for these writing assignments and that saves a lot of time. 

I suspect when I do my big review at the end of the year, I will move more of my projects into areas of focus. 

There are a few exceptions to this though. Each year I write a book. For me writing a book is a big project that is going to take up much of the year. There’s research to do, there’s writing the first draft and of course, there’s the editing, cover design and publishing to take care of. There are a lot of individual tasks that would be very hard to remember and would clutter up my writing area of focus. So the book I am writing becomes a stand alone project. 

Another task I would consider as a project is buying a car. I am planning on buying a new car in the near future. Now at the moment, my wife is studying her masters degree and we don’t need a car just yet. When she finishes her masters degree we will need a car, so I created an individual project for the purchasing of the car. Like writing a book, there are a lot of tasks associated with buying a car, there’s researching the kind of car we want to buy, type of engine, colour, where to buy from, insurance arrangements and so on. This to me is a genuine project and to put all those tasks inside an area of focus would likely cause a lot of confusion. 

Let me give you a real life scenario I have used for the last two years on how I use a hybrid system of projects and areas of focus. I have an area of focus called “online courses” inside that area, I keep tasks associated with the maintenance of my learning centre (where I have all my courses) and any marketing campaign tasks. Each year I will launch a number of new courses as well as update some existing courses. The course I launched last week, From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days started life out as an idea in Evernote about eight months ago. Up until the end of August, that course remained in Evernote with a corresponding task in my online course areas of focus that said: “continue developing From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery”. 

In Evernote, I added ideas, created a lesson list and an outline. At the end of August, the course became a stand alone project in Todoist. All the tasks I needed to complete in order to get the course recorded, edited and published were kept inside that project. Slides needed creating, the course description needed writing and the marketing campaign needed organising. There are a lot of individual tasks associated with creating such an online course. In total it takes around 80 hours of writing, recording, editing and publishing. Because of the work involved and the number of tasks required, something like creating and publishing an online course will always be a project. 

Once the course is published, though, the maintenance of the course will be moved over to my online course area of focus. Publishing the course ends the project. When I hit the “publish” button and send out the emails to the people who asked for more information—that ends the project. 

So in reality it is unlikely having a system organised solely on projects or areas of focus will work. A better way to organise your system is to use a hybrid system. Big, task intensive projects, are better set up as individual projects. It helps you to stay focused on the outcome and when you do your reviews you can monitor how you are progressing. Small, low task projects, you will find are better organised by area of focus. Making an appointment to see you dentist for a check up, that can be in your “health and fitness” area of focus. Organising a weekend trip with your kids can be placed inside you “family” are of focus etc. 

So how do you create your areas of focus? Well, that really does depend on you and your lifestyle. Basic area of focus lists usually contain things like “family”, Health and Fitness”, “personal development”, “social” and “maintenance” for your domestic life. For you professional life an area of focus list may contain things like “manager”, “Professional development”, “staff issues”, “sales”, “marketing” etc. It will, of course, depend on the type of work you do. 

One way to help you decide whether something is a project or an area of focus is through the deadline date. If something has a number of tasks and has what I would describe as a hard deadline, then I would consider that to be a project. If something has a vague deadline, ie the deadline is less important or is a bit vague, then I would consider that to be an area of focus. Of course, most areas of focus never end. Our car will always need an annual service, we will always need a medical or dental checkup every six months or so etc. But really, whether something is an area of focus or not will depend entirely on your way if life and the way your brain works. 

Well, I hope that answers your question, Daniel and thank you for sending it in. 

If you have a question you would like answering on this show, please send in your question either by email or by Dming on Facebook or Twitter and I will be very happy to answer your question. All the links are in the show notes. 

Thank you very much for listening to this show. Don’t forget to check out my latest course, From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days! I am sure it will be a huge help to you and the way you live your life. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With Podcast | Episode 49 | How To Reduce The Number Of Decisions You Make Each Day

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about making decisions.

You can also listen on:

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 49 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a wonderful question about the choices we make each day and how to make better choices so we can become better organised and more productive.

But, before we get in to the question I would just like to let you all know that my 2018 edition of Build Your Own Apple Productivity system in now available and is on an early-bird discount of $29.99. This course is for those of you in the Apple ecosystem and who don’t want the expense of subscriptions and purchases of third-party apps or risk the possibility of an app closing down or being bought out. This course takes you through the steps to build your own COD (collect, organise and do) productivity system using just the Apple productivity apps—Reminders, Notes and Calendar. It’s a great course and one that can bullet proof your system and help you to become better organised and more productive.

Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast live for this week’s question:

This week’s question comes from Karen. Karen asks, I’ve been trying to implement GTD for a few years now, but I always have problems with all the decisions I have to make. Things like where does this task go? What do I do with this note? And is this a project or a single actions task? Do you have any advice on how to make better decisions?

Great question, Karen and a question many people have about getting started with GTD (that’s Getting Things Done, a book by David Allen). 

GTD does often feel like one big decision making system and that can become overwhelming at times, particularly in the early days of setting up a GTD system. When you have collected all your stuff into your inbox and start processing it. The basic questions to ask about something in your inbox are “what is it?” and “what do I need to do with it to get it done?”. These questions might seem simple enough, but the “what do I need to with it to get it done?” can often lead to multiple decisions that need to be made. Decisions such as: what do I need to do next? And, where do I put this task? Which project does it belong to? or which folder do I put this note in? All these questions and decisions can lead to decision fatigue and that is not good if you want to be performing at your best every day. 

So, what do you do? 

Well, the best strategy I have with this is to restrict the decisions I have to make. For example, when I am processing my inbox at the end of the day, all I need to decide is if something is work related or personal. If it is work related then it can only be related to a piece of content I am working on or related to a client or student I am working with. 

Now here is where the problem most commonly appears. If you have your productivity set up as a mix of active projects, someday/maybe projects and areas of focus you are essentially giving yourself far too many decisions to make. When you process everything you have collected you are going to be faced with too many questions. Questions such as “is this related to a project?” or “is this related to an area of focus”. Where can I do this task?, Do I need to talk to someone? If so, who? Etc. 

A better way to reduce the number of decisions you need to make is to choose to go with a system focused on your areas of focus such as “manager”, family, hobbies and interests. What I have found is when we create organisation structures around our areas of focus it is far easier to make decisions about what something is related to. For example, if I need to do a student evaluation, that obviously comes under my roll as a teacher. If I need to talk to my wife about an upcoming trip, then that task comes under my area of family. It also means I never have to decide whether something is a project or a single action all I have to decide is what roll something is related to. 

What I have found in the past is anything could be described as a project in GTD terms. In GTD a project is anything that requires two or more steps to complete. Sounds simple enough, but making an appointment to see the dentist could arguably be described as a project because there is more than one step required. Find a time to go to dentist, find dentist’s number, call dentist and make appointment, go to dentist for appointment. That’s three or four steps. So, that means in strict GTD terms, that’s a project. But in reality, how long would it take to make an appointment to see your dentist? Probably less than two minutes. So just get your phone, call your dentist and make the appointment. Job done. For me, I have a recurring date in my calendar set for every six months to make a dentist appointment. It’s not in my to-do list at all. I see the reminder on my calendar, “make appointment for dental checkup” I pick up my phone and call the dentist and make the appointment. 

Decision fatigue is real. We are having to make decisions all the time. This is why often at the end of a day we find it difficult to decide what to eat for dinner. I must admit, I take this to an extreme. I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner Sunday to Thursday and allow myself freedom to eat whatever I want on a Friday and Saturday. Not only do I find this is better for my health—I make sure I eat only healthy foods Sunday to Thursday—it also means I have no decisions to make about what to eat. (It helps that I am not a foodie) I also exercise at the same time each day, and I plan out my exercise schedule for the week when I do my weekly review. This means I do not have to make any decisions during the week about when i will exercise and what kind of exercise I will do. 

Building routines and buying the same types of groceries is another way to help reduce the decisions you have to make too. I buy the same ground coffee from Starbucks each week (Kenyan) for my morning cup of coffee. I also buy the same English tea from the same company—Yorkshire Tea from the British Corner Shop (an online expats shopping service) I wake up at the same time each day and follow a set routine. Spend the first hour of the day studying Korean. As these are baked in routines, no decision has to be made. They just happen. 

The key here is to find ways of reducing the decisions you have to make by building routines around your daily activities. If you follow my advice about doing a daily ten minute planning session at the end of the day, then fix that at a set time each day. For me, I do my Golden Ten between 10:30 and 10:45pm Sunday to Thursday. Again, I keep Friday and Saturday free to be able to go out with my friends and family or to just relax on the sofa and enjoy a good old British drama. Once something has become a routine, you no longer have to make decisions about it. 

Creating routines and buying the same type of groceries each week may sound boring, but I have found it makes my life much simpler. I buy my jeans, sweaters and t-shirts from the same companies. This means when I decide I want to buy a new sweater, all I have to do is go to N Peal of London and make a decision on colour and style. If I did not have a favoured sweater supplier, I would have to search around for a company that makes the type of sweater I want, I would then have to decide which size to buy and check they deliver to Korea. To me that’s such a waste of time and decision making. Instead, I use the same company, I know my sizes there and the only decision I need to make really is what style. (I generally like navy blue and grey colours for sweaters) 

The trick is to look for things that can be turned in to routines and habits and then turn them in to routines and habits. Once you have that achieved, you no longer need to make decisions about them. I can give you more examples where I use this method. If I go to a coffee shop, I always order a capucchno. If I go on a business trip abroad I always stay in the same hotel brand (Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express) I generally fly using the same airline (Korean Air) and all my electronic devices are Apple. This just means when I need to fly somewhere I only have to search one airline site, if I need a new phone or computer I only have to decide which Apple device to buy, and if I need to stay in another city, Holiday Inn is most likely to have a hotel in that city. It’s simple, easy and because I use the same companies like Korean Air and Holiday Inn, I get reward points and receive very good discounts. 

All the decisions we have to make on a daily basis is a consequence of the wonderful world we live in today. We have a lot of choices and that is great. But as individuals it is up to us to reduce the decisions we make each day by building set routines and where possible using the same companies that offer the kind of services or products we like and trust. Doing this will help you reduce the decisions you need to make each day and it will prevent you from suffering from decision fatigue. I should point out you don’t have to take this to the extremes Steve Jobs did or Mark Zukerberg does today by wearing the same clothes each day. Although it is a good idea to decide what you will wear the next day the night before. That can really help reduce decision making, you don’t have to wear the same clothes every day… No really!

When I hope that answers your question, Karen and thank you for sending in your question. Don’t forget, it for have a question you would like answering, then please get in touch either by email (carl@carlpullein.com) or via Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes.

Thank you very much for listening to this episode of the Working With Podcast. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With Podcast | Episode 48 | Productivity and Running A Business with Amir Salihefendić PART 2

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Hello and welcome to episode 48 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

You can also listen on:

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Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own Productivity System

Time And Life Mastery 2018 Edition

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Todoist

In this show I have the Founder and CEO of my favourite todo list manager, Amir Salihefendic and in this second part we talked about the one billion completed tasks, motivating stories and the future of Todoist.

Sit back and enjoy the show with my special guest, Amir Salihefendic.

The Working With Podcast | Episode 47 | Productivity and Running A Business with Amir Salihefendić

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In this week’s show I have the Founder and CEO of my favourite todo list manager, Todoist. His name? Amir Salihefendic and in this interview we talked about working hours, doing deep work, the future of work and how Doist, the parent company of Todoist, selects it staff. 

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 47 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This is the first part of a two-part podcast. The second part will be out later this week. So sit back and enjoy the show with my special guest, Amir Salihefendic.




The Working With Podcast | Episode 46 | How To Keep Things Simple

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about keeping your system simple.

You can also listen on:

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 46 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week it’s all about simplicity and simplifying overwhelming and complex productivity systems. This is something that can happen and when it does it becomes a huge drain on your whole productivity. 

Before we get into this week’s question, I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you whole got involved in last week’s coupon sale. It was a shame to let all those coupons go without finding a good home. It’s so nice to know that so many of you are determined to become better organised and more productive. So a big thank you and always remember I will be here to give you support whenever you need it. 

Okay, on to this week’s question, so that means it’s time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question

This week’s question comes from Darius. Darius asks: I know you write and talk a lot about keeping your system simple, so could you give us some tips on how to do so? 

Thank you Darius for your question. Okay, let's start at the beginning. If you are new and are developing your own productivity system remember all you need is COD—that’s Collect, Organise and Do—as the base for your system. That means whatever system you develop it needs to be developed around quick and easy collection, simple organisation and a simple view of what you need to do. Think of that as your base. From there you can start building. 

So what do I mean “quick and easy collection”? What I mean is that whenever you have an idea, make a commitment or have an event, you need to be able to collect it into a place you trust quickly and easily. Today, that would probably be on your phone. Our phone is the one device we are likely to be carrying with us everywhere we go so it makes sense for this to be your primary collection tool. Now whether you choose a separate app for your to-dos, notes and appointments or an all in one collection app is up to you. I personally use an app called Drafts that allows me to collect anything in one place and then I can distribute those items to my to-do list, notes app or calendar when I have time to distribute them. What this does is simplify my collection process to just one app. And Drafts is simple—open the app and start typing. I’ve found nothing comes close to the speed and ease for collecting that Drafts gives me. 

Collecting could also be a simple pocket notebook you carry with you. Just write down everything you want to collect and organise it later. That’s actually the way I started building my productivity system years ago. Everything was collected into a little notebook and when I got back to my desk I used to tear off the notes I had collected and put them in my physical in-tray. It worked extremely well. But now with cloud-based computing and apps that sync between all my devices, I find collecting on my phone to be the easiest and most efficient way to collect. 

Okay, so once you have everything collected, how do you organise all that stuff. That’s where you need to be focused on simplicity. I’ve seen people with hundreds of clients create project folders for each client. Now that can work, but if most of those clients need little to no work doing on them, then they are just cluttering up your projects list. That kind of situation would probably mean you need to use a dedicated CRM system. A to-do list manager is not going to do that job very well. A proper CRM system would manage your clients much better and allow you to monitor marketing and call activities better. Now there are many ways you can organise your projects, notes and events. But what you need to do is find a way that works for you. What I mean by that is when you need to find a note you know exactly where to look, or what search term to use. A simple structure I use is to have an active projects list—which usually has no more than six to ten projects—and an areas of focus list that I organise by my different roles. That could be “Family”, Teacher”, “Online course creator”, “Social Media Manager” etc. 

What I find is that pretty much all the tasks I collect each day can be filed into one of those projects or areas of focus. 

For my notes, I use a simple folder or notebook structure between work and personal and tag things pretty much in the same way an old-fashioned filing cabinet worked. That is alphabetically. Be careful with this. When you do set up your notes filing system you need to be thinking about how you will retrieve notes when you need them. I find a good way to think about this is watch how you naturally go to find something. For example, if I want to find a quote I saved from Jim Rohn, all I need to do is type “Jim Rohn Quotes” into my notes app and all the quotes I have collected from Jim Rohn will come up in the search. (I have a lot of quotes from Jim Rohn) Or I could be thinking about buying a new sweater and I remember seeing a sweater Daniel Craig wore in Spectre. All I need to do is type in my notes app search field “Spectre sweaters” and I will find the sweaters I am looking for and the company that made it. (N Peal of London for those of you interested—great company) 

Now, I know that means I have to do a little extra work when I process my notes, but that little extra effort saves me time in the long run because I know how my brain works and I understand how I search for things. That’s why it is important to know how YOU search for things and not try and copy someone else’s way of searching. They will inevitably think differently from you.

Now the doing part needs to be as simple as possible. If you date everything you are going to end up with huge lists of uncompleted tasks each day. No matter how much you would like to get something done you are just not going to have the time to do twenty or thirty tasks. if everything is dated you are going to do the easy stuff first. It’s just human nature. It takes a lot of discipline to force yourself to do the unpleasant tasks first. A better way is to utilise the Golden Ten daily planning method—spend ten minutes at the end of the day and with your calendar open schedule no more than ten tasks to do the next day. Two of which should be what I call “Objective tasks” two tasks that if you do not do anything else that day, those two tasks will get done. These two tasks should be important, project or goal tasks, NOT regular routine tasks. You want to be moving forward each day on either your projects or your goals. Now I will be honest here, I have two daily lists. The first is my ten tasks, the second is my daily routine tasks. Things like updating my subscriber lists, take the garbage out etc. I don’t need to really think too much about these types of tasks, but I like to have a daily reminder of what routines I should be getting done that day—just simple maintenance tasks if you like. That list is a list I go to at the end of the day to make sure my routines for the day have been done. 

And that’s really about it. All you really need to do is focus on the three parts of your productivity system. The collecting, make that as quick and easy as possible. Make sure how you organise your to-dos, documents and events make it easy to find what you need when you need it and spend the rest of your time doing the work. 

Other tips I would give include not constantly switching apps. That’s going to do nothing for your productivity. Switching means you have to learn a new way of doing things which will only slow you down, and having to export all your to-dos, notes and events to another app is never easy, no matter what the developer claims. Things never transfer over neatly. 

Regularly removing old, no longer needed stuff is another way to keep things simple. Emails particularly have a bad habit of hanging around If you no longer need it delete it. What you want to achieve is a fast, clean easily maintained system. Having old legacy files cluttering up your system is only going to slow things down and you will be ploughing through lists irrelevant, out of date stuff. Another area where time is wasted. 

To keep things simple mean’s you should focus on what it is you want to achieve. Getting caught up in breaking things down into tiny little steps might seem like good advice, but what that does is cause you to lose focus on the outcome. Often you can achieve the outcome you desire by just getting yourself focused on doing the work in a distraction-free environment with the minimal of tools and apps. One of my most productive environments is a coffee shop, two hours, my iPad and Ulysses. The amount of work I get done in this environment is enormous. Simple tools, simple apps. And that’s really the secret of keeping things simple. 

One final piece of advice though. Stop trying to hack apps to do things they were not designed to do. A good notes app is not a good to-do list manager and a good to-do list manager is not a good notes app. Sure, you might like the idea of having everything in one place, but whenever you get an app that tries to be all things, you end up with compromises that ultimately means things will break. Just don’t go there. 

I hope that answers your question, Darius. Thank you for sending it in. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering, just get in touch via email (carl@carlpullein.con) or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the details are in the show notes. 

Thank you all for listening and it just remains for me now to wish you all very very productive week. 





The Working With Podcast | Episode 45 | Waiting For and Next Actions Contexts

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about waiting for and next actions.

You can also listen on:

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 45 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s episode I have a GTD specific question, so for those of you not familiar with GTD, GTD stands for Getting Things Done and is a concept from a book written by David Allen. A great concept and a concept that underpins my whole productivity system. If you haven’t read the book, I strongly recommend you do. It will set you up on an amazing journey. 

Before we get started, in case you missed it, I published the 2018 version of my Email Productivity Mastery course last week. This course updates last years course with better audio quality, something that was really bothering me and I have also added a number of new lessons that include setup guides for Gmail and Outlook and a new folder called “reference” which I have included following feedback from students last year. It’s a great course and is currently on its early-bird discount. So, if you want to get your email under control and to start loving email, get yourself enrolled today. This is one course you will definitely not regret purchasing. 

Okay, let’s get on with this week’s show, so that means it’s time for me to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Dimitris. Dimitris asks: “Hi Carl, how do you use the next actions and waiting for contexts or labels?” 

Great question, Dimitris. Recently I have covered these in my Working With Todoist series of videos on YouTube, but I think a deeper explanation for those of you not using Todoist may help you get a better understanding of just how powerful these two contexts can be in your productivity system. 

Let us look at the waiting for context first as I think this one is probably the easiest to understand. I use the waiting for label for anything I need reminding about in the future that is dependent on something or someone else. So for example, if I order a new pair of shoes from my favourite bookmaker in the U.K.—I’ve always wanted to say that—they will send me a confirmation email which will include my shipping number and the link to the site where I can track my delivery. That email will be saved to my waiting for folder in my email app and a copy will be forwarded to Todoist. Now, the thing is, I don’t have to send it to Todoist, I do so because in Todoist I have a daily dashboard view, which includes all the things I am waiting for. By forwarding the email to Todoist, I can include it in my daily dashboard. 

Another example here would be if I send out an email to a group of people asking them all to send me a report on their weekly sales activity. Now this email could mean I will be waiting for ten or eleven people to reply. What I do here is the exact same thing. I add the email to my waiting for folder in my email app and I also send a copy of the email to Todoist. Now in Todoist, I have the ability to add notes and in there I can add the list of people I am waiting for a reply from and when someone replies I can cross off their names from the list. 

Of course, I could use my original email and the replies to do the same thing, but for me seeing a simple list is much easier than reading through different emails looking to see who replied. 

And that’s pretty much how I use the waiting for context every day. I should point out that the additional step of sending a copy to Todoist is not completely necessary. I only do so because I have my daily dashboard filter in Todoist that tells me what I have planned to do that day and what I am waiting for. I did a video on how I have my dashboard set up and I will put a link to that video in the show notes for those of you curious about it.

You can use the waiting for context for pretty much anything—things you bought online, things you have requested from colleagues or information you are waiting for. The only thing I would say though is remember to clear it out. I clean up my folders as part of my weekly review, trying to remember to clean things up every day can become a burden I don’t need. With email, it is easy because a reply to my original email will allow me to move the email to another place if I need to and in Todoist I can just complete the task. 

Now on to the next actions context. This one seems to cause a lot of confusion for people because technically, any task that needs doing is a next action right? Well, yes and no. If the task can be completed now, then yes. But if the task is dependant on another task being completed first then no. For example, if I have two tasks inside a “repaint the living room” project, one task says “ask partner to decide on new colour” and another task says “buy paint”, then until you know what colour paint to buy you cannot go out and buy the paint. So the next action can only apply to “ask partner to decide on new colour”. In it’s simplest form that’s how the next action label works. 

However, there are numerous difficulties if you apply the next action context to all tasks you could theoretically complete right now, one of which is the size of the list. It would likely become a huge list of tasks and whenever you have a huge list of tasks you become numb to it and overwhelmed. Once that happens the list becomes useless. You won’t look at it. 

So, a better way to handle this list is to only add one task from each of your active projects as your next action. Once you complete that task you can either add the next actions label to the very next task you need to do, or you can do it when you do your weekly review. It would all depend on when the project needs completing by. 

Now, you next actions context is only useful to you if you are reviewing it regularly. I review mine every day. There are two reasons for this. The first is because I frequently get all my objective and focus tasks completed early. That’s largely because I am an early riser. I usually have an hour or two at the end of my working day to work on other things. So I open up my next actions context and begin at the top and do as many tasks as I can. Usually, it’s only two or three, but that’s two or three project tasks that I would not have thought about doing had I not looked at my next actions context. The second reason is so I can see what projects are coming due. My projects are ordered in the deadline order. So the project at the top of my project list has the nearest deadline and the project at the bottom has the farthest away deadline. This means my next actions list orders my tasks by project order so the tasks at the top have the closest deadline. This is likely to be dependant on which to-do list manager you are using. But if you can try to make sure tasks are ordered by deadline. 

When you start using your next actions context diligently, you will find you no longer need to date all your tasks. This has the benefit that only tasks that must be completed on a specific day will have a date attached to it. All other tasks, tasks you would like to complete, but it would not be a problem if you didn’t, don’t need a date. You will see them if you are reviewing your next actions list every day. 

Another benefit of the next actions context is when you do your planning at the end of the day. You have a ready prepared list from which to select tasks to do the next day. These, of course, will be based on how busy your schedule is for the day. All you need to do is add the next day’s date to the tasks you want to complete and you can be safe in the knowledge that tasks that need doing are getting done when they need to be done. 

So the final part of all this is when do you make sure the next action context is added to your tasks. Well, that really is up to you. I personally, do it on a Sunday when I do my weekly review. Because I review everything I know what projects need a lot of focus and I know what needs to be done the next week. I can, therefore, make sure I am working on the things that need to be worked on. As I complete tasks in individual projects, I can add the next actions context when I have finished working on that project for the day. For me, this has never been a problem. It takes less than 2 seconds to add the context. Seriously, that should never be a concern for you. 

If you are doing your weekly reviews, are focused on what’s important and know where you are with your projects using the waiting for and next actions context can be a real boost for you. It allows you to relax and be less stressed because you know what needs doing next and by when. Your daily to-do lists are shorter and this prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and becoming numb to your list. But… It does mean you are going to have to trust your system and that means sticking with one app, one system and trusting yourself that you will spend the necessary time each day to plan and maintain things. 

Good luck and thank you, Dimitris, for your question. I have to admit there have been a few questions similar to this recently and I hope this episode has helped you to better understand how waiting for and next actions work. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 44 | Why Apps Are Not Important To Your Productivity System.

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about why apps are not important to your productivity system.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



SCRIPT

Hello and welcome to episode 44 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have an excellent question about apps and why I feel apps are not important if you want to become better organised and more productive. But, before we get into this weeks question I would just like to remind you all that if you want to learn how to build your own productivity system, my FREE online course, How To Build Your Very Own Productivity System will take you there. It focuses on the basics of COD (Collect, Organise and Do) and shows you how to build a system that works for you. 

Details on how to get yourself enrolled are in the show notes. 

Okay, let’s get into this week’s question, so that means it’s time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from David. David asks: Hi Carl, can you tell me how I can find the best app to help me get my stuff together and get better at time management?

Thank you, David, for your question. Now, this is a question I am asked frequently on Twitter, Facebook and in the groups, I am in and there really isn’t a simple answer. The truth is, the apps you use are less important than the system you have in place. It’s your productivity system that will help you to become better at time management, not the apps you use. Apps are just tools. But as any carpenter, stone mason or sculptor will tell you, what creates a great piece of furniture, stonework or sculpture is not the tool, but the skill of the person making it. It’s how you use the tools that matter not the tools themselves. So my advice would always be to develop your system and your skill at using your system first before you start considering the apps you would use. 

Recently, I was playing around with Airtable, a great planning app that’s is loosely based on a spreadsheet with a lot of bells and whistles. Now I know if the guys who make Airtable are listening to this they would probably tell me Airtable is so much more than an Excel sheet and I would agree. But at its core, it is just a spreadsheet. Just like at its core Todoist is a database. After playing around with Airtable for a while I realised that what I would use Airtable for could just as easily be created using a Numbers sheet on my computer. The difference for me is that Numbers is free and Airtable is $20.00 per month for the features I want. All I needed to do was create a template in Numbers and I have the planning tool I want. Same function, same information. 

I am pretty sure if you looked at any app, you could recreate its features in a simple spreadsheet or word processor. So really the tools are less important than how you use those tools. 

Let’s get down to the basics and I know I have talked about this before but it’s always worth reminding you. Whatever tools you use, you only need to be doing three things. The first is collecting all your tasks, commitments and ideas into a central place. That doesn’t matter whether that is a simple $2.00 reporters notebook (as Richard Branson and Cheryl Sandberg use) or a more complex app such as OmniFocus. All that matters is you are collecting everything in a place you know you will look at again sometime in the very near future. 

Next is you need to organise all those things you collected. Tasks go onto a task list, appointments go into your calendar and your ideas go into your notes. Now it does not matter whether you are completely digital, paper-based or a hybrid of the two. All that matters is you have a list of the tasks you must complete, a place where you can review your notes and a calendar that will tell you where you need to be and when. 

Finally, you need to do the tasks, attend your appointments and develop your ideas (after all, you don’t know which one is going to be something special unless you take the time to develop it) 

Now, how you organise your tasks, appointments and ideas is entirely up to you. And that is where it all comes down to personal taste. I like simplicity and beautiful design. Others like more complexity. It really is a personal choice. But the key is you get the collecting, organising and doing part solid first. This is why I would always recommend you begin developing your own productivity system on paper first and then try your system out on whatever apps you already have. If you have an Android phone then there’s Google Tasks, Keep and calendar. If you use Apple devices then you have Reminders, Notes and Calendar. If your system works using those free built in apps then your system will work with any kind of app. 

Whatever apps you use in the end, the goal is to make sure your apps blend into the background so you do not notice them. They just do their job. When you do your planning for the next day, you need to be able to quickly see what tasks you have and be able to decide which ones you want to focus on getting done the next day. These choices are made with the full knowledge that your calendar is telling you where you are going to be and what meetings and appointments you have. When your calendar is full of meetings then you can reduce the number of tasks you plan to get done the next day. When your calendar has a lot of free space you can add more tasks for the day because you will have more time to do them. 

Really your productivity apps, your task list manager, notes and calendar need to be boring. You don’t want to notice them or be tempted to play around with settings, colours or how you have things organised. If they are doing their job, then you are focused on what needs doing, where you need to be and developing your ideas. If an app is tempting you to play around with its organisation structures and layout, then your app is not helping you it’s hindering you. 

The only caveat I would add here is whatever apps you do choose, make sure the collecting part is fast and easy. There are a lot of apps on the market that take too long to load because they want to show off their animations, colours and logos and then you have to navigate to the add function using too many clicks. A great productivity app will allow you to collect your stuff with only one or two clicks. Its click to open and click to add. That’s all it should take. Anything more than that and it’s too many clicks and too long. The lower the barrier to add a task, event or idea the better—this why pen and paper still wins here. 

The point here is no matter how feature rich an app is, it is always going to be your responsibility to maintain your system. It’s your responsibility to collect everything, it’s your responsibility to organise what you collected and it is your responsibility to do your work. It’s never going to be the responsibility of the apps you use. The simpler, the faster and the easier it is to collect, organise and do the better you will be at being organised and the more productive you will be. The less time you spend in your productivity apps means you have more time to do your work. That should be your starting point when thinking about creating your productivity system. Fast, simple and easy to use. 

I’ve seen some amazing productivity systems with elaborate structures, tagging and project hierarchies and I’ve seen these same systems fail the person who built them because they take too long to maintain and manage. Great personal productivity systems are always built on a foundation of simplicity and ease of use. 

So, David, my advice is to look for the simplest apps you can find. Ones that have very few features and ones that allow you to collect, organise and do the right things at the right time without having to spend too much time finding that information. 

One more thing before we finish. Once you have settled on a set of apps for your system, take the time necessary to really get to know those apps. Spend time playing and learning. You want those apps to become boring, to disappear into the background and only be front and centre when you need them to be. To do that, you need to learn whatever apps you choose inside out. That was one ‘secret’ I learnt a long time ago. Once you know the apps you use inside out, you get incredibly fast at using them and can fix any problems quickly. 

Thank you very much for listening to this episode and thank you, Davi,d for your question. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 42 | Building An Extraordinary Life With Kevin Blackburn

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In this very special episode, I talk with Kevin Blackburn of Life Success Engineer about making the decision to change your life, your career and starting your own business. 

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


LINKS:

Life Success Engineer:

Website

YouTube Channel

Podcast

 

Thank you to Kev for doing this. Listen out for part 2 where we talk about goal planning, productivity and the apps we use coming next on the Working With Podcast. 

 Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own Productivity System

Time And Life Mastery 2018 Edition

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 41 | How To Get Your Email Under Control

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting your email under control.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 41 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a great question about managing email and in particular how to tame an out of control inbox. 

Before we get into the question this week, I would like to just ask if you have any questions you would like answering on this podcast to get in touch. All you have to do is email me or DM me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be happy to add your question to the list. 

Speaking of email, don’t forget you can get all of my weekly videos, blog posts and podcasts direct to your mailbox each week by subscribing to my weekly Working With... Newsletter. Straight to your inbox every Friday. Perfect for your weekend reading, viewing and listening. 

Okay, let’s get into this week’s question so that means it’s time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Jackie. Jackie asks Hi Carl. I know you have done a few videos on managing email, but I still really struggle to keep on top of my email. Do you have any tips to get in control of an out of control inbox? 

Thank you, Jackie, for the wonderful question. Now where to start? Email is a difficult one for many people. Even the most productive people seem to struggle with this one. I’ve seen so many people with perfectly organised to-do lists, files and notes, but their email organisation is a complete mess. I think this is due to people not being in control of what comes into our email inboxes whereas when we are working with our to-do list manager or notes app we control what goes into our inboxes. 

So, how do we get our email under control? The first thing to understand is leaving all your incoming email in your inbox is not a smart way to manage email. Over time your inbox becomes a huge mess of read and unread email and then it just becomes very difficult to find exactly what you are looking for. It’s a bit like just dumping all your clothes on the floor of your room at the end of the day. Eventually, you are going to have to start looking for the clothes you want to wear and it would be a nightmare just looking for them. 

Instead, we need to operate a four options system and there really are only four things you can do with an email when it comes in. Do it now, defer it to when you have time to do something with it, delete it (my favourite) or delegate it to someone else. The four “D’s” Do, defer, delete or delegate. I’d love to claim this idea as my own, but it came from the wonderful Merlin Mann who called this system “Inbox Zero”. Merlin put together a website with a ton of information about how to set up Inbox Zero and he also did a Google Talks presentation. Both of which are worth looking at. I will put a link to both these excellent resources in the show notes for you. 

So how does this work? Well, when an email comes in you ask a simple question. “What is it?” Is it an email you need to reply to? Is it an email you don’t need to reply to but do need to keep it for future reference? Is it something that’s not important to you? You need to decide. 

If it’s something you need to act upon the question then becomes what do you need to do with it? Reply? Do you have time to do it now? If not then move it to an action today folder. 

Now I should explain a little about the folders. You really only need four folders. An inbox, an “Action This Day” folder, a “waiting for” and an archive folder. I would suggest you set these up immediately. Four folders - an inbox, an action this day, a waiting for and an archive. The chances are two of those folders/categories are already set up. You just need to create the waiting for and action this day folders. 

The action this day folder is where you put emails you need to do something with, but don’t have time right now to do it. However, as the name of this folder suggests, you do need to do whatever needs doing this day. No excuses, EVER! When you stop treating this folder as your most important folder, it’s power will diminish and you may as well not bother. 

For those of you wondering, the phrase “action this day” is a Winston Churchill phrase. During the war whenever he wanted something done urgently, he would label the direction with the words “Action this day” with a red sticker. Churchill’s staff new then what to do. 

Your waiting for folder is for emails you are waiting for a reply on something. I also use this folder for items I have ordered and I am waiting for delivery. I don’t order very much, but the date stamp from the email confirmation tells me when the item was ordered so when I check my waiting for folder I have a clear view of what is outstanding. How often do I check my waiting for folder? Once a day. Usually in the evening. If something is getting close to becoming overdue, I will send out a little reminder to whoever I am waiting to hear from. 

Your inbox and archive should be self-explanatory. Anything that needs no response from you, but you may need later for reference should be put in your archive. Your archive is searchable so you don’t need to worry about losing anything. Just make sure in your email settings you have your archive folder set to not delete emails older than 30 days. Gmail has this turned on by default. I would recommend you change that to 12 months. 

So how does all this work? When you process your email—note I did not say “check” your email—checking email is probably the worst time sucks out there. Checking email means you are doing nothing just checking. What’s the point in that? Instead, process. Either start at the bottom or the top and ask the question “what is it” and “what’s the next action?” If you can reply now - do it now. If you need a little more time, time you do not have right now, then move it to your “Action this day folder". If you don’t need to reply or do anything, move it to your archive. And essentially that’s it. 

Just for your reference, I can process around 70 emails, in this way, in about ten to fifteen minutes. And when I say “process” I mean I can go through all 70 emails, move them from my inbox and be left with an empty inbox. Sure, there will be around ten to fifteen emails in my Action This Day folder, but I will batch process (or chunk) those later when I have done at least one of my big objectives for the day. 

When you start replying and dealing with actionable email consistently within 24 hours you not only feel in control of your email, you also find your colleagues and the people you interact with regularly, start to see how effective and timely you are and that is always a good thing. People will respect your time much more. 

One bit of advice I would give is to become more adept at deleting. If you dump everything into your archive over time, you are going find you have an unmanageable folder of stuff you need, might need and never need. Delete the never need stuff. You don’t need it. If you find later you wanted it to keep, then someone somewhere will have a copy of it. Don’t stress yourself about it. The delete key is much faster than swiping or dragging and dropping. It was designed that way—use it. 

The real trick with this system or method is to get really good at answering the question “what is it?” And, “what do I have to do with it?” When that becomes a deep habit, that’s when email will no longer be a place of stuff you don’t want to look at or clean up. 

One final thing on this is the declaration of email bankruptcy. If your inbox has become a pit of read and unread emails dating back to the millennium, then it’s time to declare email bankruptcy. Now there are two ways to do this. A hard or soft email bankruptcy declaration. The hard one is to select all emails currently in your inbox—yes, every single one of them, then take a moment, breathe and count down from ten ... 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 then BANG! Hit the delete key! Now what you have just done is created a true “inbox zero moment. No emails in your inbox. Get used to it. This is going to be your life every day from now on. 

Okay, so maybe your not that brave. If that’s the case you can do a soft email bankruptcy. This involves creating a folder and naming it “old inbox” and again selecting all emails in your inbox and moving them to this new folder. Again, you will have created an inbox zero moment — sit back and enjoy— this is the start of your new life! You can now process your old inbox as and when you have spare time. 

One of the funniest things about doing a soft email bankruptcy is after a few weeks you begin to realise that 99% of the emails in your inbox were not that important after all and you end up hitting the delete button anyway. Doing things this way though means you miss out on all the fun of blindly hitting the delete key and the fear of the unknown washing over you. Love that feeling. 

Well, I hope that answers your question, Jackie and I hope all of you got something out of this week. Please don’t forget if you have any questions you would like me to answer on this show, just email me with your question (or leave a message on Facebook or Twitter) and I will be very happy to answer your question for you.

Thank you very much for listening to this episode. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 40 | How To Manage A HUGE List of Projects

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In this week’s episode, I answer a question about managing a long list of projects. 

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 40 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question that may not affect everyone all the time, but I think it can become a problem from time to time. That is the problem of project overwhelm. Having a very long list of active projects. How do you manage them without missing something important? 

But before we get into this week’s question I’d like to thank all of you who have enrolled in this year’s Time And Life Mastery Course. It’s so very exciting to see so many of you there and I am convinced this course is going to change your life for the better. If you haven’t enrolled, It’s not too late. Details are in the show notes. 

Okay, it’s time for this week’s question, so that means it’s time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Denrael. Denrael asks: how do you organise when you can have literally hundreds of open projects. I run a Pro Service group, and at any time, we could be engaged in, planning or bidding up to 100 different engagements.

That’s a Juicy question, Denrael. Thank you. 

Before we get into this question allow me to remind you all that we only have twenty-four hours a day. So it really doesn’t matter whether you have ten projects or 100. You will always be limited by the amount of time you have each day. This also means it doesn’t matter how many tasks you have on your daily task list, you are ultimately limited by the amount of time you have each day. So no matter how heroic you think you are, the powerful force of time will always stop you. 

However, for anyone suffering from project overwhelm here are a few tips that might help you become less overwhelmed and more in control.

The first step is to go through your projects and see if they really are projects. A lot of projects have become projects by accident and a five-minute spell focused on the project could get it completed and archived. 

As you go through your projects ask yourself a number of questions. Questions like “is this an active project?" Or "is this project really important to me?" What you are trying to do is reduce your active project list as much as you can. In a sense, you are pruning so you can give yourself space to breathe and grow. This is a place where you are going to have to be very strict with your criteria. Be very clear about what an active project is and apply that rule very very strictly. 

Another way to reduce an active project list is to use a “Someday | Maybe” folder. I find when my active project list starts to bulge it’s because I have a lot of “I wish to do” projects. The problem with “I wish to do” projects is they are often not important and were created on a whim. After the passage of a little time, your enthusiasm for the project diminishes and if that is the case either delete it, archive it or just put it into your Someday | Maybe folder. You can always come back to it again later if you wish. 

In your specific case Denrael, I see a potential problem. If you are using a task manager app to manage all your customer engagements you are probably using the wrong tool. When you have “literally hundreds of open projects” relate to different customers and clients that sounds very much like a job for a Client Relationship Management system. It is possible to manage a large number of clients in a task management app, but you are going to have to do a lot of hacking and modifying and there is going be the need for a lot of updating. That alone is going to take up time. Time you probably don’t have. 

I would suggest you look into a robust CRM system to manage all your customers, proposals and bids. That what a CRM system was designed to do and the best ones do that job very well. 

Another way to manage a long list of open projects and one of my favourites is to focus your attention on the labels or contexts. The Getting Things Done system was designed for a long list of open projects because you don’t focus on the project you focus on the tool, place or person you need in order to complete a task. In your case, you may have a list of bids to follow up on. If you create a label or context such as “follow up” you can access this list every day to check which proposals or bids you need to follow up on next. You can break it down still further by creating labels such as “Follow up by Phone” and “Follow up by email” if a simple follow up label generates a long list. 

The reality is if you are having to manage a long list of open projects you have to get very smart. Planning what needs to get done the next day instead of planning what you would like to get done is crucial. But you also need to be looking out further to the rest of the week and the whole month. What projects must be completed this week? What projects must be completed this month? These questions need to be answered every week and every month if you are going to stay on top of everything. 

You need to be very clear about what “completed” actually means too. My guess is just sending out a bid, following it up a few days later is not really completing the project. A completed project would be the bid being accepted and the service being delivered. The bidding process is just the start. The outcome you desire is the bid being accepted, a service being delivered and the money owed coming into your business. So how you structure the project may be another area where you can slim down your projects list. You can divide up a project into the different stages. For example, “the bidding stage”, “the delivery stage” and “the collection stage”. Again, if you create labels for each stage it will allow you to filter tasks down to what needs to happen next on each project. These tasks can then be assigned to the right people within your company. 

In that example, your projects would be organised by customer or client. Having a templated project you can call up, duplicate and assign to a new customer will save a lot of time and you can pre-populate the project with your process. Most to-do list managers allow you to create templates and the more advanced to-do list managers will allow you to assign dates in the form of “start plus 3 days” etc. This would then allow you to remain focused on your daily task list as that would be an accurate account of what needs to happen that day. 

For any of this to work seamlessly requires a lot of good habits. A daily review of work done and work that still needs to be done is a must. On top of that a strong weekly review that assigns some clear objectives on your projects. For example, “get bid to Client B out by Wednesday” and “follow up on Client C on Monday” these tasks need to be prioritised and dated so they come up on the right day allowing you to have enough time to do the necessary work to complete the objective. 

There are a few other, little things that can be done to save time. Automating as much of the work as possible using tools such as IFTTT or Zappier and templating forms and regularly written emails can save a lot of time and effort. But it all comes back to the one thing you cannot control. Time. 

No matter how much work anyone has, we will always be restricted by the amount of time we have each day. The key is to find ways of reducing the time it takes to complete tasks we have to perform on a regular basis. Thinking in terms of what you are trying to achieve rather than focusing on the tasks can help. This can reduce the number of steps it takes to get a project to completion. Is the goal to follow up on a bid or is the goal to get the business? If the goal is to get the business, one phone call may achieve that, rather than a ten-day follow-up process involving three emails and a phone call. 

Managing a long list of projects is always going to be a challenge and there is no one way that will take away those projects. If a project needs doing, it needs doing. Our goal is to find better and more efficient ways to get those projects completed. Never forgetting what your objective is will always help to reduce the list of tasks. A mistake so many people make is they focus on the tasks and not the outcome. Always remember what the desired outcome of the project is, be very clear about what it is you are trying to accomplish and you will go a long way to making even the longest project list manageable. 

I hope that has helped, Denrael. 

Thank you all for listening and please don’t forget if you have a question about productivity, time management, goal setting or self-development then please get in touch by email, Dming me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be very happy to answer your questions. 

It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 39 | How To Become More Productive In An Unproductive World

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about how to become more productive

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 39 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question that I feel many people want answering. That is how to become more productive in a world that seems designed to make us unproductive. It a great question and I hope to give you a few tips that will help you to get in control of your stuff. 

Last week saw the launch of the 2018 edition of Time And Life Mastery course. There’s been a lot of excitement over this course and I would hate for you to miss out. The early bird discount will be ending soon so if you haven’t got yourself enrolled in this complete course, get yourself enrolled today. This is one course you will never regret enrolling in and is a course that can change your life for the better. It would be great to see you there.

Okay, let’s get into this week’s question so it is now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Jenna. Jenna asks: I struggle to get my work finished on time and my manager is always telling me I need to be more productive. The problem is I don’t know where to begin. Can you help? 

Thank you, Jenna. That’s a great question and one I am sure is on many people’s minds. 

There are a couple of issues I see regularly with many of my clients that have simple fixes. The first is in setting personal deadlines. Now I first came across this one when I began working in Korea. Having come from a working environment where the close of day was fixed. My working hours were the traditional 9 til 5, although for me it was 9 to 5:30. What that meant was when I arrived at work in the morning, I knew I would be finishing at 5:30pm. It was unheard of anyone working beyond their finish time. 

When I came to Korea, I noticed many of my students here had a much more flexible end time. It was normal for workers to stay an extra hour or so at the end of the day to finish their work. This is where Parkinson’s Law comes in to play. Parkinson’s Law states: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” So if I begin my day knowing I only have 7½ hours to complete my tasks for the day, then it will take me 7½ hours to complete them. If I begin the day thinking I have 10 hours to complete those same tasks, it will take me 10 hours to complete them. 

Once you know this law, you can use it to your advantage. When you begin a task set a deadline. Let’s say you have a proposal for your client to do today. When you sit down to work on the proposal give yourself one hour to complete it (or 90 minutes if it requires a lot of work). So you sit down at 9:30am and before you begin you say to yourself this must be finished by 10:30am. And get started. You will find that your brain will go into the focused work zone and you will get the proposal completed by 10:30am. This is one of my favourite time hacks if you can call it that. I use this all the time to write my blog posts and even record my regular YouTube videos. YouTube videos can be incredible time sucks if you are not careful. There’s something about making videos for me that has me always wanted to re-record them. If I do not set a finish time, I can easily spend five or six hours recording three ten to fifteen-minute videos. Instead, I set a three-hour deadline. If I begin recording at 3pm I always plan to have them finished by 6pm. It really does help to focus the mind. 

Another thing you can do to really improve your productivity it to begin the day with a plan. Write down the two or three things you absolutely must get complete that day. Don’t leave them in your head. Get them written done where you can see them. Now the key here is to only write down two or three things. These are the big rocks, if you like, that must be completed that day. I know there will always be other things that need doing too, but what you really want to be doing is having the two or three big things that absolutely must be completed that day written down either digitally or on paper on your desk and have them right in front of you. Once you have finished the first thing, cross it off, take a short break and then move on to the second one. 

Difficulties occur when you have a long list of to-dos. It is natural for us to look for the easiest tasks, the quick checks. They make us feel good, but the problem, of course, is many of these quick and easy tasks are not actually that important and are easy to do. To really focus you in what is important and to get you working on the work that will contribute towards completing your work by the deadline, keep your list to two or three tasks. If you are really good and take full advantage of Parkinson’s law, you could have those two or three tasks completed by lunchtime and you can then move on to the easier, less important tasks. 

Another area I find people often struggle with is not being clear about what work is important. We all have a good mix of routine and project work to complete each day. Difficulties start when you are not clear about what work is important. Prioritising your work is a big part of becoming more productive. This is why beginning the day with a plan based on what current projects are important is vital. However, the routine work can very easily take over the day if you are not careful. There are a couple of ways you can handle the less important routine work. One way is to assign one day each week for admin work. This could be Friday afternoon for example. Friday’s are famously difficult to focus on important work because we are often thinking about our plans for the weekend. If that is the case, you could assign Friday as your admin and cleaning up day. This means you only have easy tasks to do on Friday and you don’t need a lot of focus to get them done. Another way is to allocate a time slot each day to do your admin and routine tasks. Giving yourself one hour a day to just get the routine, easy tasks complete will help you to stay focused on the important, project work for the other seven or eight hours each day. This is my preferred way of doing it. I assign one hour a day for all my routine admin work. I usually assign the end of the day to do this because I don’t need a lot of concentration to do it. But you can choose any time of the day or week to do it. 

And now for the biggie. Use you calendar to schedule your work each day. There’s something about seeing a time slot on your calendar that says something like “Prepare presentation file, for next week’s presentation” that really kicks your arse into gear. I guess we are conditioned to follow our calendars more than a to-do list. Take advantage of this. When you plan your day, look at your calendar and between all the meetings and client appointments, schedule focus time. Now only you know when that will be the best time each day. For me, it is usually between 9:30am and 11:30am and between 2pm and 3:30pm. Outside of those times I am either teaching or in meetings. This gives me around four hours every day for focused content work. 

Now I understand that in most companies meetings are often scheduled at the last minute, so it would be a little unrealistic to schedule your focused work for the whole week, but if you have established what two or three things you really want to get done for the day when you plan the day, when you get to work in the morning, you can then look at your calendar for the day and schedule those two or three things on your calendar. When you do this, you know what you need to be doing at what time each day. This is one of the best productivity tricks you can use. It really works. Remember, your calendar is sacred. What’s on your calendar gets done and although you are free to change it at any time, you should resist. Once you have scheduled your day, stick to it only allow real, genuine emergencies to change it. 

There are many other little things you can do to help. When you are given a task always write it down in a trusted place. Never trust your brain to remember it. When your boss asks you to do something always ask them when they want it by. This actually works on two levels. Firstly it gives you a deadline to work from and secondly, it prevents your boss from changing the deadline. You have an agreed, set deadline. 

Another little trick I use is when no deadline is given to me. I will always tell them when I will complete it by. This works because it sets a deadline for me and I get agreement from the other person that the deadline is okay with them. We then have an agreement and because I have committed myself to do the work by a certain time I will make sure I will do it because it was I who set the deadline. It’s almost like a matter of honour. It’s a great incentive. 

The truth is becoming better at productivity is really all about knowing what you have to get done and by when. It’s about knowing what you have to do before you start the day and making sure you have enough time scheduled to get it done. It’s simple. I know it means you need to spend ten minutes or so getting clear each day about what you need to get done, but those ten minutes will save you so much time and stress later. Think of those ten minutes as an investment in your sanity and your professionalism. 

Well, I hope that answers your question, Jenna and thank you for emailing me your question. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast, just get in touch either by email, Dming me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be very happy to answer your question. 

Thank you for listening and it just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.  

 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 38 | How I Prioritise my Day Using the 2+8 Prioritisation Method

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about How I prioritise my work.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script:

Hello and welcome to episode 38 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is how do I prioritise my work. This question has been asked by so many people that I decided in this week’s podcast to answer that question. 

Now I am revealing one of the new pieces of gold from my recently launched Time And Life Mastery Course in answering this question but this such a valuable piece of gold I think it is important to reveal it to all of you wonderful people. 

Before we get into this week’s question I would like to say if you are struggling with discovering what you want out of life and you feel overwhelmed by all the work you have to do, then please enrol in the Time And Life Mastery Course. It is a complete course, with over 3 hours of video lessons and over 20 downloadable work and tips sheets. You also get the Time And Life Mastery Workbook AND free access to my Your Digital Life 2.0 Online Course. There is so much value in this course and one thing I can promise you is if you complete the course and follow the guidance given in the course you will become masters of your life and your time. 

This is an investment in you and an investment in your future. Get yourself enrolled today and take advantage of the early bird discount. 

Okay, onto this week’s question so it is now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:

This week’s question is: Carl, how do you prioritise your own work?

Okay, to start with I should give you a little background. I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done book in 2009 and that was when I decided to change from my beloved Franklin Covey Time management system and go GTD. Now When I first started with GTD, I captured everything I could. I would process, organise, review and do. But what I quickly found was I was assigning dates to almost everything I captured and these then popped up on my daily to-do list in a random mess. Some days I would have 30 tasks, other days I might only have 12. There was no order, no prioritisation and although I was getting a lot done, it felt I was not getting a lot of the important stuff done. I found I was going through my daily to-do list looking for the quick, easy tasks so I could just check off another task. You know, checking off tasks makes us all feel good, doesn’t it? 

I should confess, for around two or three years that is how I operated GTD. I just began the day and tried to get as many of these daily tasks completed as soon as I could. It felt good always checking off tasks. I had things like “do student attendance” when I knew I would do that anyway because all classes began with the attendance register. I also had tasks such as “take the dog for a walk” when, again, I knew that was something I would do without having it on a to-do list. I really didn’t need reminding of those things because I just did them. I had them on my list because they were guaranteed tasks I would check off that day and it always felt good to check tasks off. 

Then one day, when I was doing a weekly review, I realised that checking tasks off like this did not make me a productive person. All it meant was I was checking tasks off a list. What I began to understand was to be a more productive person I needed to make sure the tasks I was doing each day were meaningful and did actually move me towards the things that were important to me. Like my career development, writing books and helping my students improve their lives. I saw that many of the things I had on my to-lists were not doing that, they were meaningless tasks, tasks I started to call “trophy tasks” because the only thing they contributed to was the good feeling of checking off a task. 

So I began looking again at the way I had my system set up and I soon discovered that all I needed was two objective tasks—tasks that moved me closer towards my goals each day—and eight other meaningful tasks that would move my projects towards completion each day. So, in total, all I needed was to focus on ten tasks a day. 

These ten tasks were to form the core of my daily workflow. But I also realised there were a number of tasks that, although not important, still needed to be done. These tasks I called my “routine” tasks. These were things like “take the garbage out”, “pay my credit card bill” and “write student feedback forms”. These tasks needed doing, but they did not move any of my projects towards completion and did not contribute towards achieving my goals. I realised if I put those into my eight tasks for the day, then I would not have any room to put in my important tasks. So I created a separate list called “routines”. They came up in my daily list, but I made sure they were always at the bottom of my list and never the top. 

That was the theory and it worked. There was a bit of fiddling about, I used OmniFocus at the time and I was adjusting my “perspectives” a lot to try and get the lists only showing what I wanted to see when I needed to see it. Today, I use Todoist and with the flagging system in Todoist I now have a ‘perfect’ way to remove those routine tasks from my daily lists until I need to see them, which is usually at the end of the day. 

So, the way I prioritise what is important is to use what I call my “2+8 Prioritisation” method. Two objectives for the day that are almost always related to my goals and eight other tasks that are important and are project related. Daily admin and other unimportant tasks that need doing, but do not contribute to my goals or projects, are considered routines and these will be on my daily list when they need to be, but for the most part of the day are out of sight and out of mind. 

The problem I see with most people’s to-do list is they become a dumping ground for unimportant work. We then schedule these unimportant tasks randomly so they come upon us when we should really be focused on our important work. Work that takes our lives forward. And as we all know our human condition is not perfect in any sense of the word and so we start checking those unimportant tasks off because of how they make us feel and we end up feeling busy, overwhelmed and exhausted, yet we have not done anything important. 

What I have found over the years I have been using the 2+8 Prioritisation method is you have to get really good at deciding what is important. You have to be very strict in applying the principle. When you do your daily review at the end of the day (the Golden 10) you need to look at the list you have for tomorrow and start removing tasks so you end up with just ten. Then you look at those ten tasks and select two as your objectives for the day. 

When you first start doing this it will be very hard. Your brain will rebel and tell you everything is important. You must resist. Remind yourself that your goals and your active projects are the most important things. That moving your life forward is far better than doing tasks that will not improve your life or improve you as a person. 

One more advantage of this method is that by only having ten tasks per day that you focus on, you still have enough time in the day to manage those little crises that will get thrown at you every day. You know those sudden emergencies that your boss or customers throw at you at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon. This method builds in the flexibility you need to be like water (as Bruce Lee said… “be like water my friend”) and as David Allen states: no matter what you throw into a pool of water it will react accordingly whether you throw in a small pebble or a giant rock. It will react appropriately and then return to its natural state. The 2+8 Prioritisation method will do just that. It allows you to be just like water. You have the flexibility and time space to deal with crises in an appropriate way so that you can return to your natural, relaxed, productive self quickly and effectively. 

Hopefully, this has helped you to understand why prioritising to some degree allows you greater flexibility and will move you closer to reaching your peak productive self. I know it is not easy, but having been through it myself I can assure you the effort is well worth it because of what you become from making these small, but significant changes in the way you operate your to-do list. 

Don’t forget, if you want to take complete control of your own life and your own time, then get yourself enrolled in my 2018 edition of the Time And Life Mastery course. This is a course that will prove to be a very valuable investment in you, your future and the way you want to live your life. 

Thank you for listening to this podcast and it just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 37 | How To Find Your Purpose

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about How to find what it is you want to do with your life.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 37 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s question is a rather popular question. I also find a lot of my English communication students also struggle with this. Discovering what it is you want to do in life. I know that sounds like a big philosophical question, but the truth is if you don’t know what it is you want to do with your life you are going to drift and drifting through life is never a good thing. As I wrote in my blog post last week (a link is in the show notes) drifting through life results in a life of regret and by the time you realise you have spent your whole precious life drifting it is often too late to do anything about it. 

Before we get into this week’s question, I want to give you guys a heads up to the launch of my Time And Life Mastery 2018 edition course. Time And Life Mastery is my premium online course that takes you on a journey of self-discovery and shows you how to discover exactly what it is you want to achieve in life. Once you have established what it is you want to achieve and do, the second part of the course shows you how you can take control of your time so your goals and purpose take centre stage of your daily life. 

It’s a fantastic course and last year’s edition was my most popular course by far. The course launches on the Friday 3rd August and I would love to see you there. There’s a link in the show notes to the course’s page where you will find all the information you need. 

Right, onto this week’s question so it is now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Sandra, Philip and Sandeep. They ask: I know it is important to have a plan, but I really don’t know what I want to do. Do you have any tips on how to find my goals and purpose?

Thank you for the question guys. 

As I mentioned in the intro, I know this is a very difficult question for many people. In fact, if I am being very honest with you, it took me a very long time to discover what it is I want to achieve in life. I would have been around 32 years old before I discovered that teaching was what I wanted to do. Before that, I tried many jobs from hotel management and selling cars to being a lawyer. All of which left me feeling empty and not excited about the future. It was only when I took the chance to come to Korea and teach English did I finally discover that teaching was what I wanted to do and that I loved everything about teaching from the planning of lessons to the helping of students to improve an area they were really struggling with. It was my willingness to experiment and try new things that finally led me towards teaching and the discovery that teaching was the vocation I loved doing. 

So that would be my first piece of advice. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Experimenting doesn’t mean quitting your current job and trying something new, but let’s say you are curious about teaching, there are plenty of opportunities where you can volunteer to teach something you know about. That could be inside the company you work for—you could volunteer to do a presentation on your know-how. One of the companies I used to work for did a monthly training session where a different teacher each month would do a fifteen-minute training session on their own teaching know-how. It was a great way to get new insights into teaching and how to handle difficult, non-responsive students. 

Another way is to start doing whatever it is you want to try. If you want to be a writer, then start writing. Begin a blog and write something every week. You don’t need to publish anything. You just need to write. You can judge for yourself if you enjoy the process. Same goes for creating videos or making your own music. We have the technology now on almost all our devices to create and make things whether that is writing, film or music production. 

But let’s say you have absolutely no idea what it is you want to do. How do you discover the things you want to do? Well, this is a lot easier than you may think. The first thing you need to do is to take a piece of paper (or a note in your note-taking app) and write “fifty things I want to do in the next ten years” at the top. Then, underneath the title begin writing down everything you would like to do over the next ten years. Don’t filter anything. No matter how unrealistic something is if you want to do it or would like to try to over the next ten years get it written down. This is not about what is possible and what is not. This is just a list of things you would like to do over the next ten years. 

One of the things on my ten-year list is to fly to the UK and buy a brand new Aston Martin DB11 and drive it all the way to Korea from the UK. Aside from the prohibitive cost of actually buying an Aston Martin, it is also a rather unrealistic thing to do. However, it is not really about whether you will actually do something it is more about getting your thinking into a place that will allow you to discover the kind of things you truly want to do in your life. 

The problem we all share is that over the years we have developed filters in our mind about what is possible and what is not possible. Many things we have labelled as being impossible have become that way, not because they are actually impossible, but because we have allowed these filters to develop by listening to other people who have told us what are the right or wrong things to do. But remember, when someone else tells you what is right and what is wrong or what is possible and what is impossible they are only giving you their own opinion. Opinions are not necessarily correct. Often the best way to find out is to try for yourself. 

Now this list of fifty things is going to take some time. When I did my list it took a few weeks to get it to fifty. The first twenty were quite easy. After that, it became much harder. But I persisted and after a few weeks, I had a list of fifty things I wanted to achieve over the next ten years. 

The funny thing is, many of the things on my list have become true. I have begun a blog, started a YouTube channel on productivity and written a book each year. All of these things I found I really enjoy doing. Strangely, writing the blog, my YouTube channel and this podcast are all related to teaching people. Most of the things I really enjoy doing come back to that. Teaching. It is what I do and it is what I feel is my purpose. 

Once you have your list of fifty things you are going to find there are quite a few things that have a common purpose. For me, it was creating content to share with other people. Of course, there were a few material things on there too. Buying the Aston Martin for example and also buying a house on the east coast of Korea. These are material and they are things I want to do over the next ten years. The point is you write everything down. Don’t let whether something is possible or not stop you from putting it on your list. The whole point is you have a list of your desires and wants. 

Now, once you have your list of fifty things you will need to start dividing it up into when you would like to accomplish them. Some of them you may want to do in the next year. Put those on the next year list. Others may be in the next three years, or perhaps 5 years. And of course, some of the bigger, more ambitious things may require a bit more time. Put them on your ten-year list. When you divide these things up into when you want to achieve them, try to get an even a stream as you can. There’s no point in loading everything up into the next five years. This is a ten-year list. So spread them out over a realistic timeline. My Aston Martin idea would go on my ten-year list for example. There’s a lot of things I want to do over the next year and taking one or two months off to travel across the world is not going to be very practical when I want to develop my YouTube channel and blog over the next five years. 

One thing I can promise you is this exercise is fun. It allows your imagination to run wild and it breaks down the limiting self-beliefs that you have acquired over the years about what you can and cannot do. And we’ve all picked up those limiting self-beliefs. This is one of the reasons why many people struggle to find what it is they want to do with their lives. They allow these beliefs to take hold and to start believing they cannot do things. The truth is you can do these things, but you first need to allow your imagination to open up. Once your imagination opens up and you get fifty things written down, the next step is to start and work on a plan to make them become a reality. 

For me, starting the YouTube channel was a big challenge. I have never been comfortable in front of a camera, so I realised I would have overcome that fear first and then develop a theme and a plan to make it happen. Three years ago I did that. It took a few weeks, a lot of abortive attempts but I persisted, and today when I look back at my first videos I cringe at how awful they are. But then I look at what I am producing today and what I have learnt over the last three years about video production and editing and I feel happy I am progressing in the right direction. The same can be said for my blog. I read those early blog posts and laugh at how bad they were. But again, over the last three years or so, I have learnt a lot, got better and now I feel confident I can sit down and write a reasonable blog post. Now I am a contributing writer for Likehack - so I must be doing something right! 

The thing is we have all got to start somewhere. And if you really have no idea what it is you want to do with your amazing life then the best place to start is with a piece of paper and start writing out all the things you would like to do. It doesn’t matter whether some of those things are crazy, stupid, impossible or the complete opposite of what you are doing today. It does not matter how old you are. It is never too late to change direction. The point is if you discover you are moving in the wrong direction then it is better to find out now rather to never find out. 

So start the list. It will take you a few weeks to get to fifty. But the time and effort is well worth it because of what you will discover about yourself.

Good luck and remember, if you do want to go into a lot more detail and you are serious about building a life you can be proud of, then take a look at my Time And Life Mastery course. That could very well be the course that changes your life for the better and set you on your way to accomplishing the things you really want to accomplish. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 36 | What It Takes To Become A Productive Person.

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about What it takes to become productive.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script:

Hello and welcome to episode 36 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this episode, I have a wonderful question about productivity. I suppose it’s an obvious question, really, but one we very rarely ask. So in this episode not only are we going to ask the question, we are going to answer it too. 

Before we get to this week’s question though, I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you who enrolled in my special offer last week. Now it’s time for you to get down and do some studying and building. So good luck with that and if you have any questions about setting up your own systems, then feel free to get in touch. 

Don’t forget, if you want to discover a system that is flexible and is customisable to work for you, then get yourself enrolled in my FREE beginners guide to building your own productivity system. It’s around 45 minutes long and will give you all the tips and tricks you need to create your own, bullet-proof productivity and time management system. The link to the course is in the show notes. 

And, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, then get in touch. I’m more than happy to answer any question on productivity, goal setting or self-development so send those questions in. You can ask me via Twitter, Facebook or direct via email. 

Right, onto this week’s question, so it’s time for me now to hand you over the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Janet. Janet asks: I’ve struggled with becoming more productive for years and was wondering what you think is the skill needed to become a more productive person. 

Thank you, Janet, for the question. A very good question indeed and a question that had me thinking quite hard.

For me, the single most essential skill required to become a more productive person, if you can call it a skill, is self-discipline. 

You need the self-discipline to keep going with your system even on those days when you don’t feel in the mood. 

You see becoming a more productive person is not a case of cleaning up your desk and tidying up your files one day. Becoming a more productive person is a way of life. If you have spent most of your adult life in a disorganised state where you cannot even remember where you placed your car keys every morning, then that is nothing to do with whether or not you are a productive person, that is more a case of not having the discipline to put your keys in the same place every evening when you return home. And it takes discipline to develop the habit of putting your keys in the same place every time. 

The basics of a good productivity system is what I call COD - Collect, Organise and Do. To collect everything that comes your way into your inbox, to then organise everything you collected that day into its rightful place, and to do the work you planned to do is not a difficult concept. In fact, it is a logical, simple concept. Putting it into practice day after day doesn’t take a PhD degree either. It’s simple. What it does take though is discipline. The discipline to collect everything, to organise it and to do it when you want to get it done, rather than need to get it done. 

We all have those days when we just don’t feel in the mood. When we just want to stay in bed and do nothing but watch TV all day. We are human after all. But what I have noticed in the most productive people I’ve met is they know exactly what they want to accomplish each day and they start the day with that knowledge. It gives them a kind of energy to get themselves out of bed and start the day full of energy. It’s as if they see each new day as a new opportunity to achieve something fantastic. And that’s true. Each new day does give you a new opportunity to create something very special. 

Another trait I’ve seen with very productive people is they are in complete control of their calendars. They know what’s on their calendar because they put it there. I notice this with my own dentist. She’s an incredibly productive person. All her scary tools are placed exactly where she needs them and she carefully plans out each treatment course with each patient. Her appointments calendar is linked to her personal calendar so she only allows appointment times that will fit into her lifestyle. Even though, as a dentist, her day is made up of patient appointments, those appointment times fit around her schedule and not given at the whim of patients or anyone else. She allows enough flexibility on her calendar to deal with emergencies and I’ve never seen her overstretched or stressed. 

And that’s one of the benefits of being in control of your calendar. You can keep things flexible, and prevent anything going on there that you have no real desire to do. It also means when you do your Golden Ten at the end of the day you can trust that what is on your calendar is what you want to do and not something other people want you to do but you have not desire to do yourself. 

But it always comes back to self-discipline. You need the self-discipline to collect everything that has meaning to you, to organise that stuff into its appropriate place and to just get on with the work whether or not you are in the mood to do so. You need the self-discipline to say no to the things you do not want to do—even if that is saying no to your boss or clients. 

It’s hard, I’m certainly not suggesting otherwise. But although it is hard, it is a skill or trait worth developing. Because when you do have the discipline to do the collecting, organising and doing as well as saying no to the things you feel will not take you or your life further forward, you will find you begin to feel a lot less stressed and much happier. You will feel nothing can stop you achieving the things you want to achieve and you start to get a lot more of your important work done. 

So how do you become more disciplined with your productivity system? 

The best place to start is with your collecting. Take a weekend and have a look at how you have your collection tools set up. Are they apps on your phone, or is it a simple notebook. Ask yourself: is this the best way to collect everything? Look at your general collection system—by that I mean if you have an idea, how would you collect it right now while you are listening to this podcast. Is it easy? Is it fast? If not, find a way to make it easier and faster. Once you are happy with your collection system, try it for a week. Make sure you are not resisting. Make sure that you do it every time every day. Tweak it if necessary but make sure you are doing it every time. 

For the organising part, get that on your calendar. Choose a time at the end of the day when you know you will not likely be disturbed and block a fifteen-minute segment in your calendar. I personally block 10pm every weekday to do my organising. I don’t schedule calls and I don’t allow anything to stop me from taking ten to fifteen minutes to organise every thing I collected that day. I have actually made a routine out of the time between 9:30pm and 10:30pm. I take my dog out for a walk at 9:30pm and when we get back around 10pm I do my organising. I’m usually finished organising by 10:15pm and I then do a little reading or watch a short video before heading off to bed at 10:30pm. Creating a pre-bedtime routine is a great way to build your discipline. Once the routine becomes a habit, you no longer feel you have to push yourself to get on with it. 

Finally, on the doing part, well that is a natural progression from your Golden Ten. (that’s the ten minutes at the end of the day when you organise and plan the next day) once you have completed your Golden Ten you should have a clear view of what you want to get accomplished tomorrow and what your two objectives for the day are. Once you have those written down or onto your to-do list you can go to bed happy knowing that the day ahead is planned and you are ready.

Sure, all this does take time to build up the routines. But before they become a habit and a routine, you need the discipline to follow through and do this every day. After a week or so it starts to feel natural and after two or three months you are well on your way to making being a productive person just a part of who you are. 

Changing old habits is hard. I know. I’ve been there. But change is how we grow into better people. The discipline and effort are well worth it because of what you become. Yes, you will fall down, you will slip into old habits, but the important thing is you get back into developing your routines and habits as quickly as you can. It will feel like hard work when you start. There will be days when you think it’s just not worth it. That’s when you need to tell yourself that the effort will reward you massively in the future and tomorrow is another day with another attitude and another chance to prove to yourself you can change and you can become more productive. 

When you become more disciplined about how you organise your life, you will find there will be other areas of your life you can change too. Areas you are not happy with and with your new found discipline and productivity skills you will find your whole life will change in so many positive ways. 

Good luck, Janet and again, thank you so much for your question. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 35 | The Most Important Part Of GTD (Getting Things Done)

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 35 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question about GTD and what I think is the most important part of the whole GTD philosophy. It’s a great question because all five parts are important in their own way. But there is one part that if you don’t do it, nothing else will work. 

Before I get into the answer though, I want to let you guys know that I recently updated my learning centre. I’m very excited about this because it takes me to the next stage of my online course development for all of you. To celebrate this launch, I have a HUGE sale on my bundled courses. I have taken off over 50% these courses and you can take advantage of this special offer. All you need to do is go to the special offer page—a link to which is in the show notes—and buy yourself a bundle. When you do buy a bundle you will get all future updates for free as well as any new courses I do. You are in a way, inflation proofing yourself. So go on. Pick yourself up a bundle today. The offer ends at Midnight on Monday, but for you wonderful people I have secretly extended the offer to lunch-time on Tuesday. 

If you really want to get yourself better organised and become more productive, this is a wonderful opportunity to get yourself some valuable education, an education you can take with you everywhere you go. 

Okay, onto this week’s question. So that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Paul in Canada. Paul asks, Hi Carl. I’m a big fan of GTD (Getting Things Done) and was wondering what, in your opinion is the most important part of GTD?

Before I go… Don’t forget to get yourself enrolled in one of the bundles. This will be something you will never regret.

Good question and this is a question I have pondered over the years. I’ve switched between all parts of the GTD process, but in the end, to me, there really is only one part that is crucial. That is the collecting (or capture in GTD speak) 

The reason for this is if you are not collecting your commitments, appointments and ideas, it doesn’t matter how elaborate or beautiful or well organised your system is, if you have nothing to put in it, it is never going to work. The whole point of any productivity system is you are getting out of your mind the stuff that you are trying to remember and to get them into a trusted place where you can make decisions about them when you have more time. If you are not collecting anything, then you have no decisions to make and you will be trying to remember everything in your head. And, as we all know, that is not the best place to keep stuff you want to remember or make a decision about later. 

Part of the reason many people feel overwhelmed and overstressed is that they are trying to remember everything in their heads. Now out heads were not designed to be memory banks. Our heads were designed to recognise patterns—we walk outside and we see rain, that tells us we need to either put on raincoats or grab an umbrella. Or if we absolutely must remember to take a book to work with us, we place the book in front of the front door so that our brain will see it in the morning and say: “ that doesn’t look right. Why is the book there? Oh yes, I must take that book to work with me” Our brain is seeking out patterns and things that are out of place. That triggers a response and that response results in an action. 

The problem here is when we try and trust our brains to remember things like call that customer, reply to that email and buy milk. All these little tasks have no triggers unless they are written down in a trusted place. When you’ve had a long day at work, fighting fires and dealing with all the issues, as you go home you are thinking about all the things you need to remember for tomorrow, you are not going to remember to buy the milk. Our brains are just not that good at things like that. 

When you have a great collecting system though, you can get all those things you have to remember out of your head. When you trust the place you put them in, then you start to make progress. 

Of course, if you’re not processing or organising what you collected, then things will fall apart at that level, but if you don’t collect, then everything falls apart and you will feel overwhelmed and stressed trying to remember everything that comes your way. 

Once you understand the importance of collecting everything in a trusted place, you can then begin to develop ways of making the collecting process as fast and easy as possible. In my early days of GTD, I carried a little pocket sized notebook with me everywhere, but I soon realised that was just another thing to remember to take with me. It wasn’t the most efficient way to do it. When the iPhone finally launched in Korea in 2009, that was when I really got my collecting system working. 

Our phones are always with us. We carry them everywhere and smartphones are basically pocket-sized powerful computers. In this little device, we have access to all the information we could want. We also have the ability to collect any information we want in almost any format. That could be text, a photo, a PDF file, an email or a webpage. There’s no need to be carrying around scraps of paper, napkins or any other random materials with scribbled down numbers and don’t forgets. Everything can be collected in one place. 

That though does create it own challenges. Yes, you can now collect everything very easily in almost any format, but where do you store it? Where can you collect all this stuff so when you need to see it you know exactly where it is? Now, this is the reason I have always advocated creating as simple a system as you can. I like to think of it as my “one project” one app for one purpose. 

What I mean by this is having one app for each of the different types of things you collect. So, if I make an appointment, it goes straight into my calendar. If I have an idea, it goes straight into my notes app and if I have a commitment or task it goes into my to-do list manager. 

So, in my case: random thoughts and ideas - Evernote. Tasks and commitments - Todoist and events and appointments - calendar. Each app has a purpose, each app deals with a different purpose. 

Now, I know many of you may be thinking, couldn’t you do that with one app and sure this is possible. But I’m thinking a little more long-term than that. When I am organising, I like to compartmentalise. When I am organising my tasks and projects I want to be working in my task manager. When I am developing ideas and projects I like the free-flowing functionality Evernote gives me. And of course, when I need to know where I am going to be, I will look at my calendar. It’s just the way I like to compartmentalise. You, of course, may be different and prefer everything collected in one place. There really is no right or wrong way of doing this. The important thing is whichever way you do it, it works for you. 

So, if collecting is the most important part of any productivity system, the next question to ask is how do I optimise my collecting system?—How do I make collecting as easy and fast as possible? 

One of the things I’ve found over the years is if your collection system is not efficient and fast you will not collect everything. You will continue to trust your head to remember things. When you optimise your collecting for speed and ease, there is no reason to resist and you will soon develop the habit of getting everything into your system. 

Now I do a complete review of my system every three months. I look at all areas of my system, from collecting and organising to doing (the COD system - Collect, organise, do) But the one area I spend most time on is looking at how I collect things. I look to see if I resist collecting certain types of stuff. If I am, I work out the reasons why and what can be done to remove the barrier. Most of the time it is because I have too many steps. I apply what I call “the subway test”. This is where I ask: can I collect an idea, task or appointment while transferring trains while on the Seoul subway system? Essentially can I capture using one hand and my phone? If the answer is yes, I see if there are any ways this could be sped up. Using Siri for example, or are there any new capturing apps like BrainToss or Drafts? Are they faster than Drafts? Etc etc. 

So for me, the speed and simplicity of collecting stuff is the most important part of the GTD system. I would guess over the years I have spent hour and hours fine-tuning my system so I could make this part of the GTD system as fast and efficient as possible. 

For those of you wondering how I have things optimised at the moment, then I use Drafts. Drafts is a little note-taking app with a huge amount of power. It allows me to collect everything from a task, an appointment to an idea into just one app. Once the task, appointment or idea has been collected I can send it either direct to my Todoist inbox, my Evernote inbox or my calendar. I’ve been using Drafts for years now and hands down it is by far the best collecting tool I have come across. 

The app sits in my dock on both my iPhone and iPad and it has become a simple habit for me to simply open up the app, type or dictate my thought and send it off to the right place. 

Now for those of you interested, I have done a few videos on how I capture on my YouTube channel. Most recently, following an update to the Drafts App, I did a video on how I use it with both Evernote and Todoist. I will put a link to these videos in the show notes so you can see it all in action. 

So there you go. In my humble opinion, if you really want to optimise your productivity system, begin by looking at how you collect stuff. Ask yourself the question “what can I do to make collecting as fast and as efficient as possible “ and really get fast at it. 

It does take time to get into the habit of collecting and the habit-forming is part of the process, but once you are there, you really will have developed a process that will alleviate most of the stress and overwhelm you feel.

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering you can contact me either by email, Twitter or Facebook. All my contact details are in the show notes. 

And finally, if you really want to take your productivity to the next level and are serious about creating a life of joy, accomplishment and purpose then get yourself enrolled in one of my bundles while they on this amazing special offer. Remember, you only have 24 hours to get yourself enrolled to do it today. Get that into your collection system and get it done. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 34 | How To Handle Digital Distractions When Working From Home.

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n this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about handling digital distractions while working from home.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 34 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Digital Distractions. They are everywhere! Not just your phone and computer, but on billboards, in your car and on your TV. You just cannot escape them anymore. And that poses a problem for all of us. How can we get any quality work done if we are constantly being interrupted by a beep, ring or a breaking news banner? Well, that’s the topic for this week’s question.

Before we get into the answer for this week’s question, just a quick announcement. For all of you wonderful people enrolled in my Your Digital Life 2.0 Online course, I released the fourth supplemental class last week. You can access it via your learning centre login page. If you haven’t enrolled yet, and struggle with getting all your stuff—your commitments, projects, appointments and life—organised then this course is designed to help you by giving you the skills and know-how to develop your system so that nothing can stop you. You will learn to prioritise, build your goals into your daily life and start living the life you want to live. Details of the course are in the show notes. 

Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:

This week’s question comes from Simon. Simon asks, "How do you deal with digital distraction when working at home"?

Ahhh distractions, and not just any distractions, digital distractions and when we are working from home. Thank you, Simon, for this question. I know this one is a real issue for many people, whether or not you work from home, and if not dealt with can lead to missed deadlines and a lot of stress.

Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can follow that will help. But for these to work you are going to have to put your phone down. For some of you, I know that is going to be very difficult. But the reality is, as with any distraction, you always have a choice whether to acknowledge the distraction and let it into your life or not. 

The first, obvious thing you can do is turn off those beeps and pings. You don’t need them. You are going to be looking at your phone or computer within the next few minutes anyway—we all do these days. Why do you need some kind of sound to also tell you you have a new email, a new What’s App message and a Facebook mention? Just turn the sounds off. Instead, leave the badge app icon on. What this does is leave that little red number on the app if you have anything unread. If your most important apps are on your home screen you will see that little red circle next time you pick up your phone and let’s be honest, we all look at our phones perhaps a little too frequently.

Whether you want anything showing up in your notifications list is entirely up to you. I would suggest you do an audit of your apps, both on your desktop and mobile devices and turn off any notifications from apps that are not going to be giving you anything urgent. Facebook, Twitter etc. I like to have important messages show up in my notification screen. I have my messaging apps, my email of course and any missed calls. The problem is when you download a new app, by default most of them get added to your notifications screen. My guess is you will find most of them are not required so you can turn them off. 

I keep Facebook notifications on in my notification screen simply because my mother uses Facebook to communicate with me. But for all other social media my notifications are off. 

The next thing you can do is to get serious about your work time. Working from home gives you a lot more freedom about when you sit down and do work. With that freedom also comes the opportunity to waste time checking email, social media and the news. And we all know these can take you journeys of pure time procrastination heaven. Not good if you want to get work done. 

Use your calendar to block time out for focused work. Let’s say you block out 2 hours between 9 am and 11 am for focused work and allow yourself between 11:00 am and 11:30 am for communications. How you define communications is up to you. It could mean just email, or you could broaden it to include social media messages. Allow yourself some flexibility here. You’ve just done a period of two hours, uninterrupted work. You deserve a reward of some sort.

If you work for a company that monitors you while you are working have the discussion with your boss. See if you can have that two hours of uninterrupted time. Don’t just assume your boss will not allow it. It’s surprising how amenable to time blocking bosses are when they can see the benefits to the quality of your work it will bring. 

Another great way to minimise distractions, if you can do it, is to get up early. Last week I had an early morning meeting cancel on me. I was already awake having just completed my 5-6 am studying and found I had a full morning of uninterrupted time. So, at 6 am I got on with the writing work I needed to do that day. By 8 am all my writing was complete and I had begun doing the less important stuff. By 9:30 am I had finished all my work for the day and I received no digital distractions at all. Purely by accident, I had spent three-and-a-half hours doing work with no distractions and I got all the days work done. That goes to show just how much time you lose to distractions every single day. 

I’ve written about this story in the first edition of Your Digital Life, and it’s worth repeating. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and my writing hero used to write when he was staying at his holiday home in Jamaica every January to March. Between 9 am and 12 pm every day. He would close the windows to his writing room and just write. his wife and guests staying with him knew not to disturb him and he just got on and wrote. Back in the 1950s, there were no mobile phones or computers connected to the interweb and he had no landline phone at his house, Goldeneye. It was famously sparse—we would call it minimalistic today. It was just him, his typewriter and his imagination. No distractions at all. Ian Fleming managed to write a full novel each year in just six weeks using this method. 

But times have changed and we live in a very different world from 1950s Jamaica. We have a lot more digital distractions, however, I believe we should sometimes try to recreate the environment from 1950s Jamaica and just turn everything off and focus on the work we want to get done. I actually do this every Monday morning. Monday’s is when I write my weekly blog post. Between 10 am and 12 pm I sit down at my desk and write. My phone is on do not disturb, and there is no one around to distract me. For me, it is two hours of pure heaven. I can fully understand why Ian Fleming managed to write a full novel in 6 weeks. Those 2 hours of undistracted time is some of the most productive hours I have each week. 

Another area you can look at is when you are at your most creative. What I mean by at your most creative is when your mind is freshest and is primed for doing work. I always thought I was a night owl. But I found that actually, I am much more creative in a morning. This means I am much less susceptible to distractions in the morning. While I can do work in the evening, I find I am much more likely to run down rabbit holes of digital procrastination and so the quality and quantity of my work suffers. Once I discovered this, I began scheduling my important work in the mornings and my less important, or less time-sensitive work in the evenings. That gave my productivity a huge boost. I was much less tempted by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and felt much more comfortable with my phone off. 

Finally, another trick I use is setting deadlines to finish work. Currently, my wife is in China and each evening we have a FaceTime call. We talk around the same time every evening so I know roughly what time I need to get my evening admin work done by. This acts not only as an incentive to get my work finished it also gives me a nice deadline each evening. Our minds are very good at getting work done by a set time if we set a finish time. Quite often, particularly when we work from home, our finish time can be quite open. We think if I don’t finish by dinner-time, I can come back after dinner and continue for another hour. The problem here is your mind doesn’t have any sense of urgency when you do this. If you begin the day by fixing the time you will finish you will find you work much faster and are less likely to allow yourself to be distracted by the non-important. There is a sense of urgency and that will work in your favour.

Well, I hope you found these tips and tricks useful. Remember, your phone or any digital device is not your master and you should never ever let them become your master. Digital devices are your servants. They are there to serve you and not the other way round. If you have important work to do then give your servants time off and focus yourself on the work that needs doing. 

Thank you very much for listening to this episode. Don’t forget to check out the Your Digital Life 2.0 online course, there is a lot of great stuff in there that could turn you into a productivity ninja with a system you create that you trust and helps you to get your most important projects and goals done. 

 It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 33 | Why I Am Waking Up At 5AM And Why You Should Too

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast, I answer my own question about waking up at 5 AM.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 33 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s episode a change from the usual format. This week, the question comes from myself and is about why I decided to join the 5 AM Club, made famous by Robin Sharma and what I have discovered about waking up at this un-Godly hour and why I believe you should be doing the same.

But, before we get into this week’s question I’d like to ask any of you wonderful listeners who also watch my videos on YouTube if you have anything you would like me to cover in my Todoist, Evernote or Working With Work series, please get in touch and let me know. I love answering your questions and I would like to open this up to my YouTube channel as well. All my contact details are in the show notes, but if you won’t look at those, you can simply email at carl@carlpullein.com

Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:

This week’s questions from… Carl. Carl asks: So, Carl why are you waking up at 5AM every morning?

Good question Carl.

Well, I guess most of you have heard people say that waking up early is a positive habit to have. It energises you, it gets you ahead of the day and it put you in front of everyone else because very few people do it. And sure, I also had heard all those things, but honestly, I was never really tempted to join those early birds. I preferred to allow myself to think I was a night owl and that mornings were just not for me. It’s a very comfortable way to think and it meant I could continue deluding myself into thinking I was simply not made to wake up early. 

But being comfortable is not really a good state to be in. When you are comfortable you are not growing. You are not developing and you are not becoming better. Over time if you allow yourself to remain comfortable you begin to stagnate and when that happens you soon find your whole life stagnates. You no longer get those promotions, your health begins to decline, you stop making new friends and seeking out amazing people and mentally you stop learning. Comfortable is a state that should scare you. 

This is why I made the decision to start waking up early. I knew I was making excuses for not waking up early by deluding myself into thinking I was not an early bird. I also needed to find time to study Korean language to fluency over the next twelve months and after many failed attempts of studying in the evening there really was only one option left. Study Korean between 5AM and 6AM every morning. That knowledge has been spinning around in my mind for a few months now. So, I decided to do something about it. I began waking up at 5AM on Monday last week to study Korean. 

Now, I’m not going to deny it, it was not easy waking up at 5AM. The first day was hard, so was the second. But I persisted. It takes a lot of self-discipline and, I believe, more importantly, a purpose. I have a clear purpose for waking up at 5AM. I want to be fluent in Korean by June next year. The benefits to me of being fluent in the language of the country I live in far outweigh the luxuries of staying in bed. The thing that has really surprised me is that after years of telling myself I cannot wake up early, I can. And it is not as difficult as I led myself to believe. Now, after two weeks of doing this—yeah, I know it’s still early days—I love waking up early. I no longer feel exhausted during the day and although I do go to bed an hour earlier than I was doing before, nothing much else has changed to the way I do my work. 

I have also found I enjoy learning Korean—something after many failed attempts before I have never done—and I feel I am progressing. There have been days where I felt I didn’t learn very much, but I have noticed even after a short period of time I can read hangul faster (the name of the Korean characters) and I feel more confident when using taxis, ordering coffee and shopping. 

So, should you join the club? Yes, I think you should. But there are a few things you do need to know before you start. 

It’s all well and good waking up at 5AM, but if you have no plan to do something constructive with the hour between 5 and 6 you are going to waste the opportunity it gives you. If all you do is check your social media, email and worry about work, then you are not making the most of this wonderful hour. I have made it a rule not to check my email or social media during this time. This one hour is for study. Once I am fluent in Korean I will find something else to learn. This is a very special time. No one is disturbing me… Well, my little dog is. He doesn’t understand why we are waking up so early. You need to make the most of this quiet time. You can use it for exercise, meditation, planning or learning or a combination of all these things. What you do need to do is have a purpose. A reason for waking up early. Without that, you are going to find it very difficult to find the motivation for lifting your head off your pillow when your alarm goes off. 

You should also be ready to adjust your evening routine a little. The first couple of days I went to bed around the same time I always had done. This was a mistake. Because I was waking up around an hour earlier than I used to do, that lost hour of sleep was really hurting my effectiveness and productivity during the day. After a couple of days, I realised I needed to go to bed earlier to compensate for the earlier start. That made a very big difference to the way I felt during the day. Now. Instead of going to bed at 11:30pm, I am am heading off to bed around 10:30pm. It does mean I have to get my work finished by 10pm so I can go through my evening routine and plan the next day, but overall all I have had to do is spend less time reading what my friends have been up to on Facebook and Instagram and that is no real sacrifice. 

You need to be committed to this. If you break the chain, so to speak, and skip one or two days, you are not going to maintain the progress. I am being flexible. I don’t wake up at 5 am on a Saturday or Sunday. I wake up at 7 am instead. I used to wake up around 8 am on a weekend, but as I am waking up an hour earlier during the week, I decided to wake up an hour earlier on a weekend. I also made sure I changed what I was studying on a weekend too. Instead of studying via notebooks and books, on a weekend I watch videos of news readers and interviews in Korean. This way I can learn the right intonation and enunciation in my target language. Whatever you decide to do with your extra hour, make sure if you do decide to maintain it on a weekend you do something a little different. It adds a little variation and variety and this will keep you fresh and prevent you from going stale. 

Whatever you decide to do with your one hour, the biggest benefit you will find is you gain an hour of ‘me-time’. In a world where so many people are complaining about not having enough time to do the things they want to, when you begin waking up at 5 am and you spend that first hour of the day only on yourself you will feel a lot less stressed. It gives you time to think, time to work on yourself and time to do the things you want to do. This is your hour to do with whatever you want to do. Spending the time on developing yourself—becoming a better you—can only be a good thing. You can start that hobby you have always wanted to start, you can read the books you have always wanted to read, you can do the exercise you have always wanted to do or you can learn the language you have always wanted to speak. All these reasons are win wins for you. This is your hour after all. 

Well, thank you very much for listening to this episode. I hope it has given you some motivation to get yourself out of your bed early in the morning and begin a new life of learning, self-improvement and growth. Remember, this is your time—time to spend on yourself—don’t waste the opportunity. Great things await you and all it takes is lifting your head off the pillow at 5 am in the morning. Good luck and please let me know how you get on and what you are doing with your special hour. 

It just remains for me to wish all a very very productive week.

The Working With Podcast | Episode 32 | How To Make Your Goals Achievable.

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about prioritising the tasks you do each day.

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 32 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s question is all about achieving goals. Something I know a lot of people struggle with and yet, there is a method that is incredibly powerful and will change the way you think about how possible it is to achieve the goal. 

Before we get into this week’s question though, I'd like to remind all of you who have enrolled in my Ultimate Guide To Goal Planning course that I published the first supplemental class last week. You can take the class by logging in to your account and you will find the class in the supplemental classes section. 

Okay, let’s get into this week’s questions and so it is now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Charlie. Charlie asks: Hi Carl, I really struggle with getting started to achieve my goals. I know what I want to achieve, but just don’t know where to start. Do you have any tips for getting started with my goals?

Good question, Charlie. 

I think the hardest thing about achieving goals is not really discovering what you want to achieve, but rather how to get started achieving the goals. Knowing where to start and how to start can be very difficult. 

Once you have discovered what it is you want to achieve you should write it down. Whether that is in a digital format or in a paper notebook is really up to you. My advice is to write it in a format you prefer. Personally, when I write out my goals in the first place, I usually do it on paper. There’s a very good reason for doing this. The process of writing out your goals helps to get your mind accepting your goal. In many ways, your mind is going to be your best friend and your worst enemy. Best friend because your mind will give you the methods to achieve your goals. Worst enemy because your mind will also throw up all the excuses you need for not doing anything towards achieving them. 

Once written down, I start writing out the action steps I will need to achieve those goals. At this point, it’s more of a brain dump, rather than a strategic game plan. I want to get as many ways I can think of to achieve the goals written down. Some are crazy, some a practical. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is I have a long list of ways I can achieve my goal. 

 Once I have fleshed out my goal with actionable steps I go through those actions and delete all the impractical ones or ones I feel isn’t going to work. I then transfer these practical steps to my to-do list manager. I want to be able to build those actions into my daily to-dos. 

However, before I get to even fleshing out my goals on paper there is a simple trick I use that is incredibly powerful and one that transforms a goal from a statement into a question that has my brain seeking ways to make the goal happen. It’s a simple change, but one that lights up the creative centre in your brain. 

Let’s say you have a goal to earn $1 million in the next 12 months. Now for a moment let’s forget about whether this is possible or not. What most people do is write it out like:

“I will earn $1 million in the next 12 months.” 

Now the problem with writing it this way is your brain will now start thinking of all the reasons why you cannot earn $1 million in the next twelve months. (this is your worst enemy at work) Our survival instinct in our brains is programmed to avoid failure and risk and having such an ambitious goal, your survival brain is going to recognise the potential for failure and begin the process of discouraging you from setting the goal. If that fails, it will give you all the excuses you need to not start working on achieving it. This is because many thousands of years ago when we were on the menu for large tigers and other predators, any risk we took would likely result in us being consumed by one of them. Not a good outcome. So we are naturally very adverse to risk and the possibility of failure. 

Instead of writing goals out in this way, reframe the goal as a question. By that I mean ask yourself “What do I have to do to…” and then write your goal. So in our $million example, we would write the goal out as:

What do I have to do to earn $1 million in the next 12 months? 

What happens next is something bordering on miraculous. Instead of your brain looking for excuses why you cannot achieve the goal, it will now start looking for ways to achieve it. It’s quite scary how your brain changes from being negative about a goal to becoming a creative solutions machine for finding ways you can achieve it. 

Now I tested this out the other day. I don’t really have a goal of earning $1 million in the next twelve months, but I decided to try this out. The first thing I did was ask - how much do I have to earn each day to make a million dollars in the year? That worked out at $2,740 per day. I then asked how many products would I have to sell per day to earn that, that worked out at 90. Suddenly, instead of looking at the goal of earning 1 million dollars I was asking “what do I have to do to sell 90 products per day?” This took me into all sorts of different avenues and in the end, I came up with a set of things I would have to do to change the way I am working today so that over the next twelve months I could earn 1 million dollars.

But let’s take this to a more realistic level. Imagine you want to lose some weight. And in this example, you want to lose 30 pounds in the next six months. Challenging, but not impossible. So here you might start asking what do you have cut out of your diet that would help losing weight. Perhaps you eat too many cookies or maybe you put too much sugar in your coffee. So you could write down reduce my sugar intake by half, or stop eating cookies Monday to Friday. You might decide going out for a walk at lunchtime would help or taking an evening stroll after dinner. Basically, what you are doing is writing out as many ways you can think of that would help you to achieve your goal. It’s a sort of brain dump. 

The point here is that your brain goes from searching for reasons and excuses about why you cannot achieve your goal of searching for ways you can achieve your goal. 

Once you have a list of ways to achieve your goal, you can now start sorting them out into what you could start doing straight away. You can look for action steps that you can begin doing today or tomorrow. You can delete the ones you think will not help and you can add others as they come to you. 

The deeper you go with this, the more likely you will find better ways of achieving your goal. You may find you have to adjust your timeline a little—something I often have to do with my goals.I can be a little over-optimistic at times—but if you stick with it, you will soon find action steps you can start right away that will begin your journey towards achieving your goal. 

Once you have a good list of action steps, get them into your to-do list manager. I often find people write goals down in a separate place from their to-do list manager. This could be a notes app or a journal somewhere. That is good, but if they are not also in your daily to-do list manager you are not going to do the necessary tasks to achieve your goals. The action tasks required to achieve your goals need to be in your daily to-do list and the only way to get them into your daily to-do list is to have them set up as projects in your task manager. I know duplication, generally, is not a good thing, but in this instance having your goals written down in a journal or notebook and also in your task manager where they are feeding your daily to-do list works and works extremely well. It helps to keep your goals up front and centre when you are planning your day or week. 

Finally, I use what I call my Weekly Objectives Plan. This is a sheet I use when I do my weekly review on a Sunday afternoon. This sheet helps me to focus on the things that are important to me. Now, this is not just about my goals, it is about all the things I want to achieve over the next week. There is a section dedicated to my goals and habits. This is where I can allocate a particular goal to each day of the week. Once I have completed this sheet I make sure that my daily to-do lists for the following week have action steps each day related to the goals I want to focus on. This helps me to stay accountable to my goals and ensures each day I have to do something towards achieving my goals. Of course, there will be days when events over-take you and you may find you cannot do what you wanted to do. But the idea is that by using this planning sheet you will stay focused each week on what you want to achieve as part of your goals. You can download this worksheet from my website, carl pullein.com - there’s a link in the show notes where you can download it for yourself. 

Hopefully, this answers your question, Charlie and thank you. Thank you also to all of you for listening to this episode. If you want to learn more about planning and achieving your goals I have an online course you can enrol in at my learning centre. There’s a link to the course in the show notes and it would wonderful to see you there. 

It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 31 | How To Prioritise Your Day

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about prioritising the tasks you do each day.



You can also listen on...

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 31 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week it’s all about prioritising, and how to prioritise your daily tasks. I know this can be difficult because we often feel every task has a priority and so deciding what must be done and what you would like to do can be overwhelming sometimes. Getting good at this takes a little time and continuous practice but it is possible.

Before we get in to this week’s question, could you do me a little favour? If you like this podcast or any previous episode of the Working With… Podcast and you feel what is discussed could help someone, please share it with them. This way, together we can help a million people discover the wonderful benefits of being better organised and becoming more productive. 

Okay, it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, who has found her voice again, for this week’s question. 

This week’s question from from TJ. TJ asks: 

 How do you use the concept of "priority" in your daily tasks? Is it strictly an indicator of "importance" or does it serve some other function in your system?

Excellent question, TJ. 

For me a task becomes a priority when it is important to me and the work that I do. Seldom does a task for someone else become a priority unless it leads directly to achieving something important. Let me give you an example. If I have a task such as write this week’s blog post and a task to review a presentation for a client. The priority for me would be write the blog post first as that directly contributes to my goals and purpose. Reviewing the presentation, while important for my client, it would only be done after I have written the blog post. It would still get done that day, but I would not drop everything else to review the presentation file for my client. For me, my higher purpose is to help as many people as I can get better at productivity and time management. The blog post would help more people. The presentation helps one person. Bear in mind, the presentation review still gets done that day, it’s just a question of priorities and in which order I would do the tasks. 

Another reason I would choose to write the blog post is that it requires a lot more creative energy. Reviewing a presentation is simply checking keywords, spelling and grammar. Writing a blog post requires creativity and thought. I know my brain’s ability to be creative is much better in a morning, so that task would get done first. 

To get better at deciding what your priorities are I would always suggest that tasks that contribute to your higher purpose, your goals and the things you want to achieve should always come first. They should be your priority. The dangerous trap we often fall in to is when we want to please people. When we prioritise pleasing other people we sacrifice what is important to us for what is important to someone else. That never leads to a good outcome for us. 

Of course to get better at prioritising we need to know what is important to us. I find a lot of people have never taken any time out to think about this. That is a mistake. When you don’t know what is important to you, the things that are important to other people will always become your priorities. If the only important thing about your work is the pay cheque every month, then the priorities of your boss and colleagues will become your priorities. Your own career, happiness and development will not be a priority. You will just do work set by other people, you will never volunteer to be involved in projects that develop you, you will never grow your own skill set and you will never go very far with your career. You will be, in effect, stuck in a dead end job. A dead end job of your own making. There’s no one else to blame… Really.

If you haven’t done so already, I would recommend you take a piece of paper and write out the fifty things you want to do in the next ten years. This is a great exercise because if forces you to think about what you want and not what someone else wants. When you do this you will find the first ten to fifteen things are easy. It’s after you have twenty things on your list when things get harder. Then you have to force yourself to go deep and think. What you will find revealing is the things you come up with after the first ten or fifteen. These are the real, subconscious things you really want to do and it will tell you a lot about what is really important to you. It might be travel, it might be a beautiful home, it could be experiences you want to experience in your life or it could be skills you want to acquire. All these are good things. 

So how do you prioritise on a daily basis? For me the best way to do this is to ask the question:

What two tasks could I complete today that would have the biggest impact on my goals/projects?

This question is powerful in that it really focuses your mind on the things that are important to you. What you are looking for are the two tasks on your daily list of tasks that you feel will take you a little closer towards achieving what you want to achieve. Something as simple as going out for a walk at lunchtime would contribute to your goal of losing some weight, or spending thirty minutes on the outline of the book you want to write. Anything like these would be good tasks to prioritise as they are focused on the things that are important to you. 

Now of course, I am not suggesting you exclude everyone and and everything from your priorities. That would be impractical. What I am saying is that you should never forget about what you want. If your career is important to you and you want to climb up the company towards senior management, then your boss’s priorities may very well be also a priority for you. If your family and friends are important to you, then prioritising spending time with them is also important. What is important is that you get to choose what is important to you and what is not. Not someone else!

I always recommend you only prioritise two tasks in this way. Two tasks are achievable. If you start getting greedy and try to achieve four or five such tasks per day you are going to fail to complete them every day. When that happens the power of your two objectives for the day loses it’s power. Two tasks are achievable and once they are completed you will feel great. 

Now for the rest of your daily tasks I would suggest you prioritise eight more tasks. This means each day you have ten tasks that you have assigned a priority. Your two objectives and eight other tasks. The reason for this is that we all probably have more than two tasks we need to complete each day. Some are more important than others. Some must be completed that day others not necessarily. By selecting eight further tasks as would really like to get done today—but it would not be the end of the world if you don’t—it helps you to keep focused on other projects and keep things moving forward each day. 

The beauty of prioritising in this way is that you are always moving forward on your goals and projects. Nothing gets missed and you are forced to stay focused on what you want every day. The problem most people find is when things get very busy in their lives, and it will from time to time, it is far too easy to lose focus on what is important to us and end up sliding towards doing work that is not important to us. We start to feel busy and overwhelmed which leads to stress and a feeling we are running around in circles achieving very little. This method of prioritisation allows you have two tasks every single day that you can focus on getting done. 

I mix my two objectives for the day up quite a bit. On busy days, when I have a lot of classes and meetings I would make them easy tasks to complete not requiring a lot of time to do. On less busy days I will choose tasks that may take longer. This is why when you do your Golden 10—the daily mini-planning session at the end of the day—you can see from your calendar how busy you are going to be and make wise choices. 

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to prioritise your day, but it does take commitment. Spending ten minutes at the end of the day to look at your calendar, your tasks for the next day and selecting two tasks to be your objectives for the next day are well worth the time. This ten minute period, and that’s all it takes once you get in to the habit of doing it, can transform your productivity. It can focus you on what is important to you and it can keep you moving in the right direction. And that is what being productive is all about. 

I hope that helps you. Please remember, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, please drop me a line either by email or by DMing me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be delighted to answer your question.

Thank you very much for listening. It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week.