How To Manage Multiple Email Accounts

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This week we are back to managing email and how to manage multiple email accounts.

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Episode 88

Hello and welcome to episode 88 of the 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.

We’re back to email this week with a very interesting question about managing multiple email addresses and whether to have them all in one place or to have different apps for different email addresses—a sort of compartmentalisation for email. 

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

This week’s question comes from Salvatore. Salvatore asks: Hi Carl, I have four email addresses: work, personal and two volunteer group emails. What do you recommend? One email app per address (Outlook, Gmail, web) or should I have all emails delivered to one inbox and filter somehow. Thank you!

Thank you, Salvatore, for your question. 

Many people have multiple email addresses. We have our work email address, a personal address and probably a few others we have accumulated over the years. The question is how do we manage all those emails. 

The ideal is to have one email app and have all your accounts coming in to that one email account. Now of course, I know this might not be possible in all cases. You may have Outlook for your business email and you company could have strict policies about how you use that account. In that case, you have no choice. In many ways that can work for you as it will enable you to place a hard edge between your work and your personal life. 

But let’s zoom out a little here. Email, whether it is a business related email or a personal one is still the same thing functionally. It is an input that needs a decision making on it. What do you need to do with the email? Reply? Save it for reference? Send it to someone else to deal with or delete it. It does not matter where that email comes from. You still need to make a decision about it. So, having everything come in to one place rather than multiple apps means you have less to check and therefore there less chance anything will get missed. 

I use Apple Mail both on my computer and my phone and iPad. All emails I receive come into that one app. I have folders set for each account though. For example, my two businesses - the productivity work and my English communication work each have their own email addresses. I also have a personal account for personal messages and online shopping. They all come in to the one app and one inbox.

My basic email folder structure is:

Action Today - this folder is for any email that requires action. It could be a reply, it could be something I have to read or it could be something else I need to do. If whatever it is I need to do will take longer than two minutes, then I will put the email into that folder for the right account. 

Next up I have my Waiting For folder. Usually, the only emails in there are emails I am waiting for something to be delivered. Online shopping for example and occasionally an email I waiting for a reply on. I check this folder once a day and once I have received the order or the reply I am waiting for I will remove the email and archive it. 

Then there is my archive folder for everything else. Once I have dealt with an email I will swipe left and the email automatically goes off to my archive folder. 

The question most people have is what about emails related to specific projects. This one is really your call. If you feel more comfortable having emails related to projects you are working on in one place, you can create folders for those specific projects. I don’t typically do this, but I do create specific folders for trips I am making. For example, last April when I went over to the UK and Ireland I created a folder for that trip because I have airline itineraries as well as hotel booking confirmations and car hire details. I wanted to have all these in one place in case I needed them while I was on the trip. 

Once I got back home I archived all those emails and deleted the folder. 

I have another trip coming up in September when I will be going over to Singapore. Again, I have created a folder specifically for that trip so all my hotel booking confirmations and flight itineraries are kept in there. This means if I need to access any information quickly at an airport or hotel, I can get it very quickly without having to search through all my emails. 

Now, if you do have strict rules about what comes in to your work email account you have no choice. You will have to have separate email apps for your personal email and your work email. That should not be a big problem though. The only thing you need to do is to make sure you are processing your personal email every twenty-four to forty-eight hours. 

This can be easily forgotten as you probably don’t treat personal email as important as your work email. A tip here would be to use your to-do list manager to remind you to check your personal email once a day. If you only check it once a week or once every few days its inbox will fill up and you will have to spend a lot of time clearing it out. Spending ten minutes or so each day processing your inbox here will keep you up to date and make sure you are not missing anything important. 

I think the biggest problem with email is we treat it as something more than just another input. But that it really all it is. It’s another input of stuff requiring your attention and a decision. So the secret, if it really is a secret, is to make sure you are processing it regularly and make those decisions about what needs to happen with it. Creating a system for processing your inbox or inboxes will help you to become much faster at making those decisions over time. If you can have all your email coming in to one app, that’s ideal. But if that is not possible, then make sure you build the system of processing your various accounts on a daily basis. Work related email may need checking several times a day, your personal email less frequently. That’s the choice you need to make. 

For me, the advantage of using Apple’s Mail app is its ability to create rules within the Mac OS system. Sadly this does not work on iOS mail, but I have created a unified Action Today smart folder where all my actionable emails come into one folder on my Mac. All three of my accounts have an Action Today folder and I want to see all these emails in one place. To do that I set up a Smart Mailbox to collect any email that I have designated as an Action Today email. I have tested many email apps over the years and I have never found an app that will allow me to do that. Newton, Spark and AirMail allow me to have multiple accounts but these are all separated within the app. So, if I use any of those apps I have to check three folders for actionable emails. With Mac OS Mail, I only have one folder to check. 

To overcome this, you can flag actionable emails, and most of these third party apps will collect all your flagged emails into one place. Once you have dealt with the email you can simply unflag it. It’s not a perfect way to do it, but it does work. 

So there you go, Salvatore. I hope that has helped. Try to keep all your accounts in one app. If that is not possible make sure you are using the minimum number of apps and check them everyday so they do not start to become overwhelming. Doing that should help you to keep everything under control. And remember, any email—personal or work related—is still just another input you need to make a decision on and then do something about it. 

Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you’d like answering, then you can email me - or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

How To Choose The Right Productivity Apps For You.

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Do find you are always looking for the best app for your productivity yet never seem to be able to find it? This week, I answer a question that might just help.

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Episode 87

Hello and welcome to episode 87 of the 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 it’s all about productivity apps and how to get the right one and more importantly stick with it once you have made the decision. 

But before we get into this week’s question, don’t forget the Time And Life Mastery online course has been updated. It’s a great course that will show you how to develop a plan for your life and then how to create the process for achieving it. 

This course has helped thousands of people over the years and now it has been completely updated, re-recorded and is proving to be a bit of a best seller. So get yourself enrolled and take control of your life and your time now.

Details of the course are in the show notes. I can’t wait to see you on the course soon.

Okay, onto this week’s question and 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 Heather. Heather asks: Hi Carl, I’ve been trying to get myself more organised over the last year or so, but I can’t seem to find the right apps. I’ve tried so many, but find I am soon looking for another one. Do you have any tips that will help me to find the right apps? There’s just so many to choose from. 

Thank you, Heather, for your question. I’ve written a lot about this over the years because I used to be obsessed with the latest and shiniest new apps. I tried pretty much everything out there, always telling myself that this new app was going to solve all my productivity problems. I think on some weird, deep level I hoped these new apps would do the work for me. 

The truth is, no app is ever going to do the work for you and the latest and shiniest app will have the just as many frustrations as the previous app you used. 

Let me give you an example. When the new Apple Notes app came out two or three years ago, I thought this is it! This is the perfect app. Built for the Apple ecosystem and with the Apple Pencil in mind. I thought, finally an app that would rival Evernote and give me everything I wanted. 

Ha! That didn't happen. Apple Notes is great for taking notes, there’s no question there. But you wait until you have a few hundred notes in there and you want to find a note you made several months earlier. Good luck with that. 

So while Apple Notes does look better than Evernote, in my opinion, it doesn't come close to being as good as Evernote when you want to find a specific note. 

I had the same issue when Notion came along. I spent a whole afternoon playing around with it. WOW! This app promised to do so much. It could be a place for me to store my goals and plans, be a research tool and be a replacement for Evernote. It appeared to be able to do everything for me. I was particularity drawn to the idea of it being able to act as a dashboard for me. A place where I could see all my open projects, goals and other stuff I wanted to see on a daily basis. 

As I played around with it I began to realise that while Notion could do so much, what it could do was not as good as the existing tools I was using. I could see so many frustrations. So the advantage of having everything managed in one app, was negated by the compromises I would have to make and of course, there was the problem with all those settings. When you have an app that allows you to customise almost everything from fonts, background colours and images, you are never satisfied, so you spend a lot of time messing around with them and not doing any work. (Although you convince yourself you are doing work because all these changes to your settings will somehow improve your workflow) 

So, you need to choose your apps with care. To do that, the best place to start is with a pen and piece of paper. Ask yourself what do you want your apps to do for you? 

Let’s take your to-do list manager for example. Do you prefer to see things in a simple list, or are you more of a visual person? Do you prefer to see things as cards or as lists of projects? Apps like Things, OmniFocus and Todoist will give you your to-dos in a simple list format. Or would you prefer to see things in a more Kanban layout where you see your projects as cards on a board? For that, an app like Trello or Asana would be a good fit. 

When it comes to notes, again how you want your notes to be presented to you is important. Google Keep gives a card like layout, Evernote and Apple Notes will give you a more traditional list layout. 

Another question for your notes app is how many notes will you want to keep in there? If you are planning on storing all your digital notes in the app, then Evernote or Microsoft OneNote is the way forward. If it is just a few notes, a quick place to capture your ideas, then something like Apple Notes or Google Keep would work well. But, and this is a big but, you need to choose something that works for you. 

And that really is the point here, Heather. Find something that you like and works for the way you like to work. I’ve done the “if it works for that organised person then it must work for me” thing in the past. The truth is it will not necessarily work for you. We all work differently, think differently and have different ideas about what looks nice and what doesn’t. Many people don't like the way Evernote looks, that’s okay. I’ve got past that. Many people cannot. There are plenty of functional, aesthetically pleasing apps to choose from out there. Personally, I think Microsoft OneNote looks better than Evernote, but that’s just a personal thing.

Once you have chosen what apps you want to use, then the next stage of the process begins. Learn everything you possibly can about the app. Go to YouTube, find tutorials, read blogs and go through every menu item to see what each one does. Set up a ghost project (a fake project to use for experimentation) in your chosen to do list manager and test out every possible variation you can think of. 

That’s really the trick with becoming better organised and more productive. Knowing how to use your apps. Knowing how to quickly add a new item, process that item to its correct place and being able to retrieve it when you need it quickly and effortlessly. 

And that brings me to collecting stuff. For me, this is the biggest one. If it is quick and easy to collect my to-dos and notes, I am not going to resist. If it is complicated, involves too many button clicks or I have to think too much, I will resist. Reducing the button pushes and clicks for me is vital. I have what I call “the changing trains” test. Can I easily collect a thought or idea when I am changing trains? I do actually test this. Any new way of collecting must pass that test before I adopt that new approach. If you can collect a task, idea or note while switching trains then it is fast enough. There must be a lot of people in Seoul who think I am very strange taking into my phone or watch to test while switching trains to see how fast collecting is haha.

Another consideration for me is how easy is it to organise my projects? You see, you do not want to be spending too much time inside your productivity tools. You productivity tools are not where your work happens. Your work happens in your email apps, Microsoft Word, Google Docs or PowerPoint or Keynote. The more time I spend inside my writing app, Ulysses, for example, the better. That’s where the work happens. The productivity apps I use must have drag and drop for tasks into projects for example. I can process an inbox of 15 tasks in Todoist to their rightful projects in less than five minutes. That includes adding any necessary dates, priorities or labels. The same with Evernote, I process my Evernote inbox every weekend—usually as part of my weekly review and I can easily process twenty to thirty notes in less than ten minutes. 

But processing is not the only thing that needs to be fast. Being able to search and find what you are looking for is also a crucial element. If searching for something is laborious or difficult then the app fails my tests. The app must be easy to search within. Evernote’s search is legendary. I think at the moment that one feature is what is keeping Evernote relevant. Likewise, Todoist search is incredibly fast and the search bar is at the top in every part of Todoist. 

So there you go, Heather. To find the right app you do need to do a little testing. Four things need testing:

The first is how fast can you collect your tasks, ideas and notes? Would your app pass the “changing trains” test? If not, then it won’t work for you. Find an app that you can collect your stuff quickly and easily with the minimum of clicks.

The second is, do you actually like using the app? If you don’t like the way it works or you do not like the design, then you are not going to want to use it. So choose an app that appeals to the way you work and your own aesthetic tastes. We are all different here. 

Thirdly, how fast can you process the things you collected? You want processing your things to be fast. Remember your productivity apps don’t do the work for you, they only tell you what needs doing and how. So the less time you spend inside your apps, the more work you will get done.

And finally, can you easily find what you are looking for when you need to find it? Searching is a crucial element when you are building your own productivity system. You are going to be throwing a lot of stuff in these apps and if you are not able to find what you put in there, the app fails. So check out the search function. It will be important. 

So those are the four tests. And remember, once you have learnt everything you can about these apps, then stick with them for at least a year. You need to give the app time to become part of you and part of your system. If you are constantly switching your apps you will never learn how to user them properly and no app will be good enough for you. Stick with the apps for at least a year and make them work for the way you work. 

I hope that answers your question, Heather. Thank you for sending it in. 

Thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then send me an email——or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be very happy to answer your question for you. 

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

How To Stay Productive When You Have Young Kids

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Do you have the patter of tiny feet around your home? Are you raising a bunch of lovely kids? How’s your productivity going? In this week’s episode find out a few strategies to cope with those little bundles of joy called kids.

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Episode 85

Hello and welcome to episode 85 of the 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 coping with a young family. Now anyone with children will understand the difficulties these little ones pose to our overall productivity. But with a few simple adjustments and a little shift in your mindset, this period of life does not need to be stressful or too harmful to our productivity. 

Don’t forget, if you haven’t enrolled in the third edition of Time And Life Mastery yet, you should do so soon. The early-bird discount period ends tomorrow (Midnight Monday) and I would hate for you to miss out on not only a fantastic, life-transforming course, but also a great price - just $85.00.

For those $85.00 you get Time and Life Mastery version 3, the Updated Time And Life Mastery Workbook AND… You also get free access to Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s an incredible value for just a tiny investment. 

So go on, get yourself enrolled today and begin transforming your life into a life you want to live.

Okay, 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 Matt. Matt asks: Hi Carl, I'm a father of 2 daughters, (3 and 1) and naturally they take or impact a lot of my time. I've been trying to build a productivity system for a long time that works for me, as well as implementing a lot of the tips and routines suggested by you and others. However, everything I have found seems to rely on building a predictable routine for oneself, which is near impossible with children. Do you have any tips that will help me? 

Hi Matt, Thank you so much for this question. I am sure there are a lot of people experiencing this joyous, life-changing experience as well as the challenges that come along with it.

Having small children around is a huge demand on your time and disrupts the most organised of people. But let’s be honest here, raising children is likely to be the biggest responsibility and best experience you will ever have in your life and one you should enjoy, cherish and let it be where you do your best work not just professionally but as a parent. 

The first point is as you say, Matt, it is almost impossible to stick to any kind of plan when your kids wake up at different times each day and in all likelihood go off to sleep at different times too. So what can you do?

Well, the first thing to understand is if you are trying to stick to a routine at the same time each day you are only going to be fighting yourself. It is not going to happen with any consistency and ultimately you will fail. On that point no matter what you do your kids will win in the end. So rather than have a set time for morning routines, it would be better to start your morning routines when you wake up. Now that could be 4am or it could be 7am the key is you begin the day the same way. 

Now we all follow some kind of routine each day. When we wake up we make our coffee, we brush our teeth, shower etc. So whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you do still follow some kind of routine each day. With kids, you have added tasks. Breakfast needs preparing, kids need dressing etc. All these routines are things you just do because you have to do them. 

It can be useful to have a morning ‘have I done?’ checklist. What this means is you have a list of things you have to do in a morning - not wish to do things - wish to do things should never be on this list. This list is for things that you absolutely have to do and all it is doing is asking “have I done this?” 

This question—“have I done this?”—is a powerful question because rather than telling you to do something it is asking you whether you have done it and if you haven’t you can decide if you want to do it or not. It gives you a better sense of calm, when all around you may be chaos. I know this might sound simplistic, but it works. You should try it. It is far less commanding and gives you an option to decide. 

Now as an aside here, if you create this morning checklist on a little whiteboard in your kitchen you can involve your children in the process too. You can ask them the questions one by one and they can check off the tasks as you go through them. By starting them young you are installing habits that they will get a great deal of benefit from in later life. Now that’s a win-win for all of you.

Now as for your own personal morning routines, again you need to be flexible. You will have to accept there will be days when you are not going to be able to fit in exercise, or reading. Your kids are going to demand your attention. But from a parent’s perspective, that’s a great thing. You are getting some quality time with your kids. If possible, involve your kids in your exercise. You can ask them to sit on your back while you do press-ups for example, or you can get them to hold your knees when you do your stomach crunches. Another thing you can have them do is press the stopwatch start button and tell you when you have done 30 seconds or a minute. There are endless ways of involving your kids in an exercise programme. 

Of course, you might not get the exercise session you want, but at least you get some exercise and you have just given your children some quality time with you. 

Okay, what about your personal projects

For the most part, your projects are going to have to be realistic. You will need to reduce the things you used to do before your children came along. There’s no point in thinking that your kids will all go to bed at the same time, sleep soundly and wake up at the same time each day. That’s never going to happen. So if you have any thoughts about being able to micro-manage your day you are heading for a big surprise. That won't happen. But that’s okay.

Rather than micro-scheduling your day, you are better working from a master list of projects and working on them as and when you get time. I’ve found it’s often better to plan what you would like to do on a weekly basis and keep that plan to the minimum of projects. 

It’s really all about what you can do in the moments of time you get when your kids are either asleep or engaged in their own activities. 

Your kids might be watching tv or drawing. While they are doing that you can do some of your own work. Of course, once again it is not ideal, but doing that is better than not doing anything at all. Just being able to move your projects forward a little is better than not moving forward at all. 

With all that said, collecting your stuff and spending ten to fifteen minutes each day to organise that stuff should be possible even with the most energetic of kids. Kids drop off at some stage and when they get organising. It might be your only chance all day. 

You could, of course, do what my mother did when she wanted some quiet time. She’d give me a spoonful of cough medicine and within twenty minutes I was sound asleep. I didn't turn out that bad... or did I? hahaha oh those were the days. 

Now there is the other part to this and that is to negotiate time with your partner. Some friends of mine came up with an arrangement where when the husband came home from work—usually around 7—their young son was his responsibility. He was also responsible for their son on a Saturday. 

Those Saturdays turned into some huge adventures from parking in the car park near the end of the local airport’s runway to watch the aeroplanes land and take-off to fishing at a local river. It was not only a great experience for their son it was hugely beneficial for the husband too because he was able to get time away from screens and work. 

Whatever way you look at it, having kids running around the house is a joyous thing. For our own personal productivity, we need to adapt and create systems and strategies that allow us to have that important quality time with our kids and carve out some time for ourselves to work on our own projects. 

It’s not easy, of course, but with a little foresight, creativity and a good strong list of things you want to complete is not impossible. 

I should point out that the one thing you need to keep a tab on is your own sleep cycle. A lack of sleep will kill any ideas you have about staying productive, no matter how organised you are. Pay close attention to your own sleep. If you are not getting enough, prioritise catch-up time. This isn't about reducing your available time still further. This is more about making sure when you have time available it is not sabotaged by your own exhaustion. A lack of sleep will lead to mistakes which will need fixing, missed deadlines and poor performance. It just isn't worth it. If you are exhausted and you have a choice between clearing your email inbox and getting a twenty-minute nap. Take the nap every time. 

Your email can wait. Your sleep cannot. 

Whether you have kids or not, no matter how busy you are when you are at home, you will always have pockets of time to get on with the things you want to get on with. If you have a master list of projects you can look at when you do have a pocket of time, then no matter how busy you are you will be able to make progress on something. And that is what it is all about. Taking advantage of those pockets of time to get the stuff you want done. 

I hope that goes some way to answering your question, Matt and thank you for allowing me to use your question. 

Thank you too to all of you for listening. Don't forget if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, just email me, or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

How To Finally Get Your Productivity System To Stick

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This week, we return to that familiar problem of sticking with your system once you have created it.

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Episode 84

Hello and welcome to episode 84 of the 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 we return to sticking with a system, the most common question asked this week, indeed I think on the last few weeks it’s been the number one question. 

Before we get into the question, in case you missed it, The Time And Life Mastery version 3 launched last week. This is a massive update with almost all classes re-recorded and with an updated workbook and downloadable sheets. 

This course is truly transformational. It takes you on a journey of discovery. You learn how to discover the things you want to do in your life and I show you how you can develop those dreams and goals and turn them into actionable steps that take you towards achieving them. You get to learn about the visual timeline, the 5 transformational questions to ask yourself and you begin work on your 50 things you want to do and achieve. 

And once you have your list and developed your plan on your visual timeline, I show you how to master your time so you can start taking the steps you need to take to achieve them. It’s not going to be easy—but then nothing worthwhile is easy—but the journey, the experiences and the achievement is what your reward will be and nothing can beat that. 

To find out more there is a link in the show notes to the Time And Life Mastery website and if you are quick, you can Dave yourself $15.00 by getting yourself an early-bird discount. 

Ok, back to this week’s show and that means it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Brian and Nilesh. They ask: We have set up our systems as you suggest in your courses, but now, after a few weeks we find we are not sticking with the system. Do you have any tips to keep us using the system? 

Thank you, Brian and Nilesh, for the great question. 

Okay, let’s start at the beginning here. For most of you, when you create a whole new productivity system things are going to be different. You are going to change a few habits and you are going to have to do things differently from the way you have done them before. That means you are changing habits and that is not going to be easy. A few weeks is not really very long to install a new way of doing things and of course, there are going to be times when crises and emergencies will take over the day. That’s just life and we have to develop strategies for dealing with those for when they happen. 

So, understanding that in order for any new system to work for you, you will have to change. Now for you to change old habits, you need to take things slowly. Take each step at a time. For instance, I always recommend that you focus on collecting to start with. The reason is simple. If you are not collecting everything into a trusted place, then you will have nothing to organise at the end of the day, so the whole system collapses before you even start. 

Now, when it comes to collecting, to stick with that, you need to get fast at collecting. Speed is the objective here. Most of the things you will be collecting will be done on the fly, so your mobile collecting needs to be fast. Whether you are using your mobile phone or a pocket notebook to collect, you need to a) make sure you have it with you at all times and b) you can collect with the minimum of barriers.

I like the old Steve Jobs analogy here. When they were developing the first iPod the goal was to be able to get to any song within three clicks or less. The engineers spent months testing and testing every scenario so that no matter where you were on your iPod, you were no more than three clicks away from the song you wanted. 

You need the same mindset when developing your collecting system. No more than three clicks to type. Actually, it should be less for capturing. Ideally, one click and you are typing if you are using a phone—that’s the reason I use Drafts for all my collecting. It’s one click and I am typing what I want to collect. 

Part of developing your system is finding the fastest way you can to collect everything. That also includes paper documents. I carry a plastic A4 wallet in my bag so I can slip any paper documents or name cards into that. I empty that out every two or three days, but if something is urgent I will add a task into my to-do list manager. 

So, collecting is all about speed. 

Organising is about setting time aside each day to organise and decide what needs to happen next with whatever you collected. That could be just adding a task to its rightful project or it could be you decide you no longer need it and so you delete it. 

Now with organising, the best way to develop this habit is to set aside 15 minutes at the end of your working day to do your organising. You should only need ten to twenty minutes to do this. So scheduling 15 minutes in your calendar every day at the same time will force you to stop whatever you are doing at that moment and begin organising. This is a little like tidying your desk at the end of your day before you go home. 

Let’s say you finish work at 6pm. So, schedule 5:45 to 6:00pm every day as your organising time. I like to call it the Golden Ten - the ten minutes you need to process and plan. 

Now, whatever happens, you make sure you do your organising and planning at that time. Even if you are in the middle of something. Stop. Do your organising and then return to whatever you were doing. The reason for this is if you continue working on whatever it is you were working and finish say at 8:30pm or 9:00pm you are going to begin skipping your organising and that’s when your system begins breaking down. Miss one or two like that and you lose momentum. Do not skip it!

It’s only for 15 minutes. Everybody can find 15 minutes each day to do their organising and planning. Schedule it and make sure it happens at the same time each day. It will quickly become a routine and then a habit and once it has, you are much less likely to skip it. 

So there you go. Focus on collecting and organising to get you started. These are the easiest parts to becoming better organised and more productive. So develop those habits first. 

So the next part to develop is planning and prioritising. This can be a bit more difficult because it takes time, and a little experience, to learn to identify which tasks have the biggest positive impact on your projects and goals. However, if you make sure you are doing your organising every day, you soon begin to see patterns. You see which tasks have a greater impact on the progress of a project. You can then start making sure they are prioritised each day. 

You should also reduce the number of tasks you have on your to-do list as much as you can. Long lists of to-dos create overwhelm, and overwhelm will stop you from looking at your lists. When you stop looking at your lists you stop planning and prioritising and then you are at the mercy of everyone else’s emergencies and urgent tasks. 

A simple way to do this is to look for natural triggers. Natural triggers are things that automatically tell you something needs doing. The fuel warning light in your car is a good example of a natural trigger. When the low fuel warning light comes on in your car you know you need to put fuel in. You do not need to add that to your to-do list. Likewise things like doing the laundry or taking out the garbage. You know they need doing when the laundry basket or the garbage can is nearly full. You can see that. You do not need them on your to-do list. 

You can also reduce your to-do lists by creating an “action today” folder in your email program and putting any email that needs action in there. Then all you need is one task in your to-do list manager that tells you to check your “action today” folder in email. This saves you from having to send actionable emails to your to-do list manager. 

Finally, as I talked about last week, you need self-discipline. Without that, you will never stick to any system. You need to give any system or app at least one year to develop and grow with you before changing it. If you are constantly changing apps, or you are constantly changing the time you do your organising and planning then you will fail. It just does not work like that. You need to be disciplined and stick with it no matter what you feel like. 

I can promise you if your system keeps failing it is not the app that is causing the failure it is you. You are not giving enough time to develop your new habits and to learn the apps you are using properly 

Finally, your calendar is your guide throughout the day. Your to-do list only tells you what to work on next. It is your calendar that tells you how much time you have before your next meeting. Your calendar tells you where you need to be and when and with who and it is your calendar that tells you you need to stop and do your organising. 

If you do not treat your calendar with the respect it deserves your whole system will come crashing down. You need to adopt the policy of “what goes on my calendar gets done”. No excuses. 

If you start to ignore what you have planned on your calendar then your calendar loses its power. This is why you should never give up control of your calendar to anyone. Not even your boss. It is your calendar and it is your time. Do not let anyone else have control of it. You can allocate time for other people to make appointments with you, but you need to be in control over when that time will be. You also need to block off time for focused work each day. Usually, the best time for that is early in the morning when everyone else is checking their email. You will have at least an hour each day when all your colleagues and customers are checking email so they won’t be bothering you. Use that time wisely and block off time each day to do some undisturbed important work. Again. No excuses. It is the only way you can control what gets done and leaves you in control of your time, and more importantly, your life. 

Well, I hope that has helped in some small way, Brian and Nilesh. Really it all comes down to self-discipline and without that, no system, app or device will work. If you don’t develop your self-discipline and habits and change your bad habits then nothing with ever stick. 

You need to make a decision now. Be disciplined, collect everything, schedule those fifteen minutes at the end of your day for organising and planning and make sure that what goes on your calendar gets done. That needs to be your focus for the next three months. 

At the same time, keep working on becoming faster at collecting so you never resist. Remember if you are not collecting, you will have nothing to organise and that means you have no system. 

Thank you for the question, guys and thank you all for listening. Don’t forget to take a look at the Time And Life Mastery course. I put my heart and soul into this course because I know it works and I know it can transform your life is so many positive ways. 

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

How To Set Up A Productivity System And Stick With It

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Are you struggling to start any kind of system? Then this week’s podcast is for you. 

You can also listen on:

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Episode 83

Hello and welcome to episode 83 of the 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 setting up your system and sticking with it. I know a lot of people want to create a productivity system—something that helps them to stay on top of their work and the things important to them—yet fail to stick with their system or find they are always changing their system and apps and never really feel they are getting better.

Before we get to this weeks question, I have something really exciting to announce. The Time And Life Mastery 3 online course is coming later this week. This course will transform your life completely and this year it has been completely re-written and re-recorded. 

This course takes you on a journey of discovery. We start with your life. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to have in your life and how to create a plan to change the way things are today so you can begin down the road towards achieving those goals. 

Once you have a plan in place you begin the time mastery part of the course where I show you how to build your plan into your daily life and make sure each day you are making progress towards hitting your milestones and your objectives. 

This is a complete life course. I have divided it up over four days—although for you big achievers it is possible to do the course in just one day—and throughout the course, you complete a number of exercises designed to help you create the vision and plan you want for you and your family. 

More details of this course can be found on the course website which is 

Okay, onto this week’s question and that means 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 Richard. Richard asks; Hi Carl, I have tried everything to get my life more productive but I just can't get anything to stick. Do you have any tips on how to get started and stay with a system 

Oh boy, this is one of those questions I get all the time. There is so much advice out there—a lot of it great advice—but I think sometimes that’s the real problem. There’s so much great advice it can be very hard to choose which advice is best for you. 

And in that statement is the heart of my answer to you, Richard. Whatever advice you take, it has to work for you. 

Now, I understand we all work differently. That’s one of the wonderful things about being human, we are all so amazingly diverse. With that, though, comes the issue that one size definitely does not fit all. 

I like all my stuff to be organised and in its rightful place. When I get home at the end of the day, my bag goes next to my desk. My phone goes in the same place and my AirPods immediately get put back in their case. 

My wife, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Her bag goes wherever she drops it and her AirPods sometimes get out in the dining table, sometimes on her dressing tables and in the winter sometimes put in her coat’s pocket. 

So the reality is, you need to build a system that works the way you work and to do that you need to understand how you work. 

An example of this is I recommend you spend around ten minutes at the end of the day processing all the stuff you have collected that day in your inbox and planning what you will prioritise tomorrow. In most people’s cases that work very well yet, I have a number of clients who wake up early and find doing their processing and planning early in the morning. 

Now, processing and planning are important if you are going to get control of your day. Without a plan, the day will grab control of you and your time and you will feel very busy but achieve very little of importance. 

So there is a great starting point. When will you do your planning? Morning or evening? 

Pick one. Then schedule it. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes for processing. Of course, the goal is to get that down to ten minutes (hence the phrase I use “The Golden 10”) but in the early days of your journey, it will take a little longer. 

Once you have a set time each day to process and plan you are really 50% of the way to having a great system. 

Now, for the other 50%. 

This is really dominated by collecting. If you are not collecting everything that comes your way, you will have nothing to organise at the end of the day and if you have nothing to organise you will have nothing to plan for. So collecting needs to be done. 

I’ve found this is an area a lot of people skip because they erroneously believe they will remember to do something. So they collect some things and not collect others. 

The problem with not collecting everything is it only takes one drama for your brain to forget what it was you wanted to remember. For instance, you could be waiting to cross the road and remember you need to send something to your colleague in Frankfurt. As you are waiting, a friend you haven't seen for a long time taps you in the back and you then you engage in a short conversation ending with a promise to do lunch next week. 

Now you have two things to remember, but you are so excited about catching up with your friend you completely forget about sending the file to your colleague in Frankfurt. 

When you take those few seconds to collect your tasks, ideas and events you do not forget. You’ve collected them and those things can now be processed when you have time for processing later in the day. 

So how do you get started? This is possibly the hardest part. The reason is that you need to stop fire fighting and for many people fire fighting is addictive. You feel you have to always be running around putting out fires and when you are not doing so, you feel incredibly uncomfortable. 

You have to stop. 

Now depending on how much backlog you have and how much important work you have neglected this will determine how much time you need. Typically, I find most people need at least one whole day, although it is not unheard of some requiring two or even three days to get themselves sorted out. 

Often the GTD mind sweep is a great place to start, but I have found setting up a framework to collect and organise your stuff is a better place to start. After all, if you follow the concept of dumping everything on your mind into an in basket at the end of the process you have an in basket full of stuff and nowhere to organise it. 

Selecting what tools you want and what storage you want to use, I feel is a better place to start. This way if the tools you select are new to you you can be learning to use those as you collect and organise - a sort of killing two birds with one stone. Part of a great system is you know how to use your tools properly and more importantly your use of them is fast. 

Once you have the framework in place you need to gather all the stuff you have around you that needs doing. Go through your email, go through any inboxes you have for notes and go through any bits of paper you may have collected that have ideas, tasks or events on them. Get then all in the right place. 

Set up your calendar to work for you too. Your calendar is the anchor that brings everything together. Your calendar is what tells you what needs to be done and when and how much time you have available each day for the work that needs doing. This helps you to get realistic about what you can achieve each day. 

Okay, so you have taken the plunge. You put a stop to all your inputs for one day, you have a framework in place and you are ready to reopen the floodgates and allow stuff to restart. How do you get yourself to stick with your system? 

Two words... self-discipline. 

Yes, you are going to need a lot of it. You are going to have to install some new habits and to do that you will need self-discipline and, according to research, sixty-six days to install those habits. That is going to be hard. You are going to fall off the wagon and you are going to slip up on some days. But just because you fall off the wagon or you slip up occasionally, doesn't mean you don't get back up and carry on the journey. Getting back up and continuing is part of the process. We all slip up from time to time, but the important thing is you keep going. 

Really, all you need to focus on is collecting and giving yourself ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day to organise what you collected and plan your day. Collecting is just something you do. Sure, you may have to remind yourself from time to time to collect something, but it does not take long to get into that habit. And as for finding those ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day for organising, well… If you can’t find ten to twenty minutes then you have bigger problems than productivity and time management. Schedule that time on your calendar. Pick a time at the end of the day and create a recurring event with a notification that comes up to remind you. When that notification comes up, stop what you are doing and begin organising and planning. 

If you need to go back and finish off some work, that’s okay. The important thing is you have processed and you have a plan for the next day. 

You see, the plan you have for the next day gives you your purpose. It prepares your mind for the work you plan to do and you give yourself a fighting chance of actually getting those important things done. 

Now, for those of you who have not already done my FREE COD course, I highly recommend you take the course now. The course is just a basic introduction to COD (collect, organise and do) and it will give you a simple framework in which to build your own system. The forty minutes you take to do that course will save you a tonne of hours later and will help you to finally get you to a place you feel in control. 

Thank you, Richard, for your question and that you all for listening. Don’t forget if you have a question then you can email at or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes.

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

How To Use COD In A Paper Environment

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So you work in a paper based office or work hybridly? Then this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast is just for you. 

You can also listen on:

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Episode 82

Hello and welcome to episode 82 of the 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've received a lot of questions about how to implement the COD system in a paper environment. Is it possible? Well, the answer is yes it is possible and today I will explain how to do it. 

But before we get into the question if you are struggling with time management and productivity and don't have a system at all, then take forty minutes and do my FREE COD course. 

It will give you the framework in which to create a system that works for you. COD is very flexible and as you will see today is not just designed for the digital world. You can use it in an analogue world too. 

Details of how to enrol in the course are in the show notes. 

Okay, on to this week’s question and 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 Jerri and Janet. They ask: Hi Carl, we work in a largely paper-based work environment. How would you go about organising your work when you have to deal with paper and paper files?

Thank you, Jerri and Janet, for your questions. 

At its very core COD is simple and incredibly flexible. It’s intentionally so because one size does not fit all and we all have different ways of organising and working. Many of us love to develop ideas with pen and paper, others prefer to collect everything into a digital system. And the truth is there are no right or wrong ways to do this. The only right way to do it is the way that works for you. 

So, to implement COD in a paper-based way you first need to get yourself a notebook. Now you want to get a notebook that is robust and one you can carry with you wherever you go. This will become your to-do list manager. 

Now just as an aside here, back in the days when I used a hybrid system, I carried a little pocket notebook with me. One with easy to tear off sheets. This I carried in my pocket whenever I couldn't carry my main notebook. I used it for those ‘just in case moments’. Times like when I was having lunch or dinner. This way I still had a way to collect everything no matter where I was or what I was doing. 

Okay, so you have your notebook to manage all your to-dos, now where do you put all the incoming paper? Well, you will also need an in-basket. Now, your in-basket should be at your main workstation. If you work from an office and home, it might be a good idea to have two in-baskets. However, I never felt the need for two. Because I was collecting into a notebook I carried with me everywhere I went I just tore off the notes and put them into my in-basket at my home office when I was next there. 

Now the notebook you are using for your to-do list manager is where you put your lists. All you really need is a master list and a daily list. Put everything on your master list and when you do the 2+8 prioritisation at the end of the day you can put tasks from master list to your daily list. 

But again, how you organise your daily to-do list is entirely up to you - it has to work for you. But even wit paper, you can still operate the 2+8 Prioritisation system. Every evening, before you go to bed you open up your notebook, with the next day’s date at the top and start with your two objectives. Then leave a line space and write you eight focus tasks for the day—the eight tasks you really want to complete. 

You can use the right-hand page for your notes for the day, observations and little reminders if you wish. 

Okay, now for all your paper files. 

For this, you will need a way to store all your project materials. The best way is to get yourself a filing cabinet, but that might be hard to do these days. Now when I was transitioning to a digital system I used a shelf on my bookcase next to my desk. I could see the names of the files clearly on the folders I used so it was always easy to access papers I needed. 

The key with this system is to make sure once a project is completed or you no longer need the documents you were keeping you remove them. Either throw them away or archive them in a box somewhere. You do not want to get in that awful position of having a mix of completed and active projects all in the same place. You would just go numb to all the files you have in there. 

Now your notes, use your notebook. 

Again, you want to have your current notes with you at all times. Here all you need to do is start at the back of your notebook. Keep your daily lists at the front and your notes at the back. You can use post-it notes to separate projects and give you easy access to your notes. The thing here is not to have too many notebooks. I know a lot of people have different notebooks for different projects and that’s okay if it works for you. Personally, I never liked that idea, and so kept meeting notes and projects ideas at the back of my one current notebook. 

One area I would not move to a digital system is my calendar. These days, airlines and other places you may make bookings will send you a calendar link that adds all the right information you need to your calendar. Likewise, when you use a digital calendar you can share calendars with family and friends. All you need to do is print off your calendar for the week after you have done your weekly review and fold it into your notebook. You can then add and delete events by hand. 

One of my friends here in Korea, a very successful businessman and teacher, does this every week. Every Monday morning his assistant prints off his calendar for the week and he folds it into his little pocketbook. He can reference that paper anytime he wants to see where he needs to be and when. He is one person I’ve met who has never missed an appointment, so it must work. 

Now speaking of printing things out, if you want to maintain some digital system and make things a little easier for your processing and storing, then remember almost all to-do list managers do give you the option to print out your daily list. Todoist, for example, can send you an email every morning with your daily list. It is organised beautifully and you can print that out. You can add new tasks, cross of tasks when you have done them or add a new date and update your system when you get back to your computer. This would actually be a great way for those of you who like using pen and paper. It allows you the ability to organise digitally but still maintain your daily task management in an analogue way. 

In many ways, if you do print out your daily to-do list and carry that with you all day, crossing off completed tasks and adding new tasks to that one sheet of paper, it will give you a great way to review your day and plan the next. All you would need to do is give yourself the ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to sit down with your computer and update everything add and plan out your next day. Sounds almost idyllic to me. 

Now, remember, while paper-based working still exists, the digital way is a lot more efficient and means you can have access to all your notes and files through the cloud. If you have a smartphone then you still have access to your Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud. So it is worth thinking about still maintaining your files in the cloud. Of course, there may still be documents that you need to retain hard copies of and for that you can create physical files. What you do need to do though is to make sure you are maintaining those files and keeping them current. 

COD is very flexible. It is designed to be a framework that allows you to collect your tasks, ideas and events into a single place, give you time at the end of the day to organise those things you collected and focuses you on doing the work. How you collect and organise is up to you. All you need to do is find the best method for you. That can take a bit of experimenting, but it is worth it because once you do have a strong framework in place your effectiveness and efficiency improve and you become a lot less stressed and overwhelmed. 

So there you go Jerri and Janet. I hope that has answered your question and given you some ideas about how to use COD with your paper-based working. 

Thank you for your wonderful question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, please email me at or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

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

How To Turn Your Ideas Into Achievable Projects

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Podcast 81

Do you have difficulty completing projects? Then this week’s episode of the Working With… Podcast is just for you.

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 81 of the 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 a problem several years ago I had. That is being excellent at starting projects and having ideas, but terrible at seeing those projects through to completion. It took a lot of self-analysis and introspection to understand why I did that and to change my behaviours so I would start completing projects. 

 But, before we get into that, I'd just like to remind you all that I currently have a Spring Sale on where you can get my Your Digital Life 2.0 online course for just $65.00 and if you buy that course this week, I am throwing in From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days completely free. 

When you add in the free access you get to my Email Mastery and Ultimate Goal Planning Course you get with Your Digital life 2.0 you are getting a package worth $240 for just $65.00. 

I must be mad! So go on, get yourself enrolled today as this offer will end very very soon… Well, this week actually.

Okay onto this week’s question and 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 Daniel. Daniel asks: Hi Carl, thank you for all the content you put out. Could you help me? I have hundreds of ideas and I collect all these into Evernote. But when I look at my list of ideas I realise that I am just not completing any of them. I think it is because I don't know where to start. Do you have any tips that might help?

Hi Daniel, thank you for your question. 

I should congratulate you on actually collecting your ideas. Far too many people don't collect their ideas and just leave them in their heads only to see them disappear as soon as their attention is diverted and never surface again. 

So what we need to do is see collecting and developing your ideas as part of a process. You need to give each idea some time to develop. 

So, you collect an idea and while you are still buzzing about it you should take five or ten minutes to develop it. A one-line title in your notes app is not going to inspire you very much in a few days time. So take five minutes now and note down some thoughts to give your idea some context. 

Let's say I have an idea for a new course. I will collect that idea in Evernote and then take a few minutes to jot down the purpose of the course and what I would expect students to learn from it. I would also probably write out a few lesson titles. I know saying that now sounds like quite a lot, but in reality, it is only a few lines. 

Once I have a few lines expanding my idea I can leave it. 

Often I will leave the idea for a few days. For me, if I cannot stop thinking about an idea and I keep adding to the note then I know it will become a project and I need to spend some time to really develop it. 

For this purpose, I use a tag in Evernote called “Incubator”. 

Now I should explain about my incubator. This is a tag in Evernote that has no more than ten notes in it. If I have additional ideas I can still collect them, but they can only go in my incubator if I move another note out. 

This keeps my open, active, in development ideas to a maximum of ten. It also ensures that whatever is in there is still relevant. 

Now the thing about ideas is they are only moving forward when you are working on them. It can be easy to collect your next billion-dollar idea in your notes but over time, if you don’t do anything with it, it soon disappears under all the other notes and stuff you collect. So you need to keep them utmost and foremost in your mind. 

To do this you should make it a habit to review your ideas—those in your incubator—regularly. I look through my ideas every Wednesday and Sunday (when I do my weekly review) I choose Wednesday because by Wednesday I have usually finished creating the content I want to put out that week and I have time and mental space to think of new ideas. 

Here, what you do is a quick scan. Does anything jump out at you? If it does, open up the note and set yourself 15 minutes or so and really dive deep thrashing out some concepts and ideas. Get them all written down add them to your idea. 

Now, for most of you, there will be one idea that is consuming you more than others. Often when I have a new online course idea this will be constantly on my thoughts. Because the idea was collected into my Evernote inbox it is very easy to open up Evernote and see the note at the top of my notes list. I can then add additional ideas to the note as they come to me. Often by the time I reach my weekly review, the note has developed into a long list and that is a sure sign that this is a project worth taking to the next stage. 

The opposite can happen too. Around this time last year, I had an idea to do a build your own Google productivity system. For a couple of days, I was really excited about it. I collected a lot of notes and decided to take it to the next stage and build a project out of it. 

Now to build a project out of an idea what I do is allocate an hour of development time. Usually in the early morning when my brain is fresh and at it’s most creative. I go through my collected ideas and pull out all the next actions and list them at the bottom of the note. Once the obvious next action tasks are out, I will copy and paste them into Todoist as a project and allocate time on my calendar for doing those action steps. 

As I was developing this project, I realised I didn't have enough knowledge of the Google productivity apps and when I investigated further I decided that I would need to learn a lot more than I had time to learn. So I abandoned the project. You see projects can be abandoned at any time. It best, of course, to abandon projects in their early stages, but for your personal projects that do not involve other people, you are free to abandon them at any time. 

You see, you do need to be realistic, Daniel. There are a lot of considerations to take into account. For one do you have the actual time to do this project? How many other projects do you have going on at the moment? I’ve found if I have more than three active projects going on at any one time I am having to compromise on time to be able to allocate enough time to each one. That’s never a good thing.

One way to overcome this—If you can do it—is to allocate one project to focus on each week. Right now, I have all my focus on Time and Life Mastery 3, my biggest online course. I have not just allocated this week to this project, but I have given over the whole month. This means outside my regular work, producing this podcast, recording my YouTube videos and writing my blog posts, all other work time is being spent on that one project. I know that for me to get it planned out, recorded and edited so it can be ready for publishing next month, I have to focus completely on this project. 

And that leads nicely to my next tip. That is set yourself a deadline. Of course, with your regular work projects, you may have a deadline imposed on you. But for your own personal projects, you get to control when you complete these. I often see people creating amazing projects and then calling them a “hobby project” which is just a get out clause so you don’t have to finish them. If you are serious about the project and it is something you really want to do, then set a deadline. The truth is without a deadline, you will never finish the project. 

Okay, so there’s quite a lot in this week’s answer so let me summarise what you can do. The first step is to make sure you are collecting your ideas. Remember, if you decide later to abandon the idea, that’s fine. That’s far better than not collecting the idea in the first place. 

Once you have collected the idea, the next stage is what I call the discovery stage. This is where you develop your idea, throw links and other support materials into the mix and be aware of your own limitations in knowledge and time. How long this takes is really up to you. Take as long as you need to really develop the idea. 

Then leave it for a few days. Let your subconscious mind absorb everything and think about it. Then when you come back to it, you will either decide it’s not for you, or you will decide to move on with it. Moving on with it means going through the notes you have collected and pulling out all the next actions and moving them over to your to-do list manager as a project. 

Then be realistic about your available time and choose the right time to begin working on your project. 

The key is to really restrict what you work on at any one time. Keep an incubator file for no more than ten ideas at any one time. Less if you can. I used to keep 20 ideas in my incubator but soon found a lot of those ideas were not getting touched. That’s why I reduced it to ten. I sometimes think ten is too many, but for now, it works for me. 

Finally, I would advise you have a someday / maybe folder somewhere. This could be in your to-do list manager or your notes app. Inside your someday/maybe folder you keep all your project ideas and other things you have ideas about and review this folder once every month or so looking for something you would like to work on next. This prevents you from losing your ideas and will always give you a feed of new projects to work on whenever you want to work on them. 

I hope that answers your question, Daniel. Thank you for sending in your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget you too can have any of your productivity, time management or goal planning questions answered by emailing me— or DMing me on Facebook or Twitter.

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

How to Use Your Calendar Properly

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Podcast 80

Your calendar, probably the most powerful productivity tool you have in your toolbox. On this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to get the most out it.

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 80 of the 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 episode is all about the humble calendar. They’ve been around for a very long time is one form or another and because of their simplicity have helped millions of people through the ages to schedule their work and to create amazing things. 

Before I get in to this week’s question, though, I wanted to give you a heads up to a couple of very special offers I have on at the moment, not only do I have my Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life course at 50% off, I also have a Spring Special on where you can get two courses for the price of one. Yes, you can get From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days for FREE when you buy Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s a value of over $240 for just $65.00. 

That 2 for 1 offer is on for a limited time only so hurry. Remember, with all my courses once you are enrolled you are enrolled for life and will get all future updates for free. All the details are in this week’s show notes

Okay, 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 Sanjid. Sanjid asks: Carl, I really struggle to know how to use my calendar. I use a to-do list manager and I don’t know what I should be putting on my calendar and what to put on my to-do list. Can you help clarify things for me? 

Hi Sanjid, thank you for your question. It’s a very valid question and what to put on a calendar and what to put on a to-do list can cause quite a lot of confusion at times. 

Before we go into the specifics lets take a step back and look at how not just your calendar and to-do list should work but also your notes as well.

We have three basic tools in our productivity armoury these days. The calendar, to-do list manager and your notes app. All three have a specific job to do. In a very basic way, your calendar tells you where you need to be and with who on what day and time. Your to-do list tells you what tasks you need to perform on a specific day or within a specific project and your notes is where you keep all your ideas, meeting notes and other similar reference materials. 

Now a good productivity habit is to keep a hard edge between these three tools. What that means is you do not duplicate. When you keep a clean edge between these tools you don’t need to have tasks in your calendar or events in your to-do list. 

What should happen is you look at your calendar and see what meetings and appointments you have and where you need to be, and then look at your to-do list manager to see what tasks you can complete in between those meetings and appointments or if there is anything you need to do at a particular location. 

For example, Let’s say you start the day and look at your calendar. Your calendar tells you you have a meeting with your boss at 9:30am at your office. You can then go to your to-do list manager and pull up your tag or label for your boss and see what actions you have that relate to your boss. During the meeting, you would take notes into your notes app, and after the meeting transfer any tasks to your to-do list manager—and that should not take you more than a few minutes. 

That’s essentially how everything should work. 

The whole point of keeping these tools separate is to avoid overwhelm and a confusing mess. I’ve seen people try and keep their tasks and appointments in a calendar or trying to keep everything in a hybrid calendar, task list and notes manager and in almost every case it has ended in tears. You end up with things all over the place and in today’s world of massive distractions, it becomes incredibly easy to miss something important. When that happens you lose trust in your whole system and then things become worse because you no longer collect everything.

Your calendar is also your best planning tool. When you use your calendar properly—for events—you can see what your future days look like. You will know when you have a forthcoming business trip or workshop and on those days you can remove all but the essential tasks from your task list. You know you will not have much time to do tasks on those days because you need to be fully engaged in your workshop or you will be involved in back to back meetings. On those days you switch into what I like to call “collection mode”. This is where you are not completing tasks, instead, you are just collecting. 

It also means you can plan ahead. Let’s say you have an offsite two-day workshop on Wednesday and Thursday next week and you have an important project update to present on the following Friday morning. When you have the workshop and the presentation scheduled in your calendar, you will see that and know immediately that you need to get the presentation completed by Tuesday at the latest leaving you only needing to practice your presentation on Thursday evening or early Friday morning. Alternatively, you may see the workshop and presentation and decide to request a postponement of the presentation to the following week. Without that kind of alert, you are going to be worrying about preparing the presentation while you are doing the workshop which means you will not be able able to fully engage with the workshop and so not get the full benefit of what you are learning. 

In my experience workshops and business trips are often planned quite far into the future. I know, for example, I have a workshop in Singapore in September, which is four months away. At the moment, I do not need to do anything about it, but as it is a four-day workshop I will need to arrange hotel accommodation and, of course, my flights to and from Singapore. The event is scheduled in my calendar as an all-day event which prevents me from double booking myself, and I have a project for the workshop in my to-do list manager that will tell me to organise my flights and hotel accommodation on the 1st July—two months before the event. 

And that is a good example of a to-do list and a calendar working together. My calendar is telling where I will be, and my to-do list manager tells me what I need to do. 

Of course, there will be other tasks associated with the workshop. I will need to arrange to cancel any classes I have on the days I am in Singapore and I will need to block the dates on my client scheduling system so I do not double book myself. All these are tasks and are in my to-do list manager. They are tasks, not events.

And that is the clear blue water between your calendar and your to-do list manager. Tasks go on your to-do list, events go on your calendar. 

What you want to develop is a calendar that allows you to quickly see what you have on, and where you will be on a particular day so you can make granular decisions about what tasks you will do on those days. 

When you put everything on your calendar—tasks and events—it becomes incredibly difficult to see at a glance what you need to do. When something looks full and busy you will resist looking at it and when you do look at it you will feel overwhelmed and things will get missed. 

Now there is another area where your calendar can help you and that is with doing focused work. I’ve found, psychologically, that when I schedule a period of writing time on my calendar I am much less likely to resist doing it. I have a recurring task on my calendar every Monday morning for writing. Now, generally I will write my weekly blog post at that time, but occasionally, I have something else that needs writing that is important. Because I use the general term “writing time” on my calendar, I get to choose what I write. Likewise, I have time blocked out on a Friday afternoon for recording my YouTube videos. My calendar does not have anything specific, just “video recording time”. That way I know I will have a three-hour block to record videos. If I need to record anything specific it will be in my to-do list manager and that task will come up on Friday so I know I have something specific to record. 

This all means that when I look at my calendar either the night before or when I am doing a weekly review I get to see the blocks of times I have allocated for the work I have to do and I get to see where I have gaps for doing errands or other unscheduled work that comes up such as phone calls, sorting out student issues or just to take some time out and get some fresh air. 

Finally, a tip for those of you struggling to fit in your hobbies, side projects or exercise to your week. Schedule the time in your calendar. Every Sunday afternoon when I do my weekly review I schedule out my exercise for the week. I like to exercise five times a week and exercise is an important part of my life. So it gets scheduled. I can look at my calendar and see what I have on and where I need to be and then fit in my exercise time. Again, once it is on my calendar it becomes much more difficult to find an excuse not to exercise. It also helps me to prepare mentally for it and to decide—based on how I feel on the day—what kind of exercise I will do. 

So there you go, Sanjit. I hope that has helped you and given you some ideas on how best to use your calendar. Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer on this podcast, all you have to do is get in touch either by email or by DMing me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

How To Stop Feeling You Have To Do More.

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Do you have this nagging feeling you are not doing enough and feel you need to do more? That’s the topic I am answering this week in the Working With Podcast

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Hello and welcome to episode 79 of the 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, it’s all about that annoying feeling we all get from time to time where no matter how much we do each day we still feel we haven’t done enough and our brain is telling us we should be doing more. Today, I’ll explain how you can quieten down this voice. 

But, before we get into this week’s question I have some very exciting news for you all. My Complete Guide To Building a Successful Life course is 50% lower this month. This course was inspired by my journey from training to be a lawyer and discovering I had made a mistake and what I did to change my life and my career and end up doing something I love doing every single day. 

So, if you feel unhappy with where you are today and want to make some big changes in your life then this course is definitely for you. I don’t often promote this course so this is a great opportunity for you to get yourself enrolled now and starting learning how to turn around your life so you can start doing what you love doing. Full details are in the show notes together with a video about my story and why I passionately believe anyone can turn things around whatever your current situation. 

Okay onto this week’s question and 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 Tony. Tony asks, Hi Carl could you do a podcast on the feeling of needing to do more - I eat the big frogs, do a bunch of other stuff and still feel I need to do, do, do even if the tasks aren’t critical or important must do that day tasks.

Great question, Tony. First off, I should confess. I used to have this problem too. It was most noticeable when I began getting up earlier and doing all my writing and creative tasks before 9AM. Although I was still doing ten hours or so of work each day, because I was getting my work done by two or three PM in the afternoon I felt I had not done enough and felt I should do more. It was an unpleasant feeling. It left me feeling guilty. 

In the end I came up with a simple solution. I knew I was doing a lot of work, yet my feeling was I wasn’t. So I began writing in my journal exactly what I had done that day. So, for example, if I wrote my blog post, as soon as it was written I would take twenty seconds and write that in my journal. That went for anything I did that was not immediately noticeable. Of course, teaching a class or attending a meeting was in my calendar, but a lot of my work is done on a computer and so it is not immediately obvious what I had done. By writing a list of what I had done I could see as the day progressed the list getting bigger and bigger and if I ever felt I had not done enough all I had to do was take a look at my journal and see a long list of things I had done. 

That solved the problem for me and it is still something I do today. 

However, I think this goes a little deeper. One of the reasons I started doing the 2+8 Prioritisation system was because I wanted to make sure the important things were getting done each day. One of the reasons we feel we are not doing enough is because it is true. We’re NOT doing enough. Enough of the important things that is. It is very easy to lose control of the day and end up running around reacting to other people’s priorities and issues leaving the work that is important to us undone. When we get to the end of the day and we think about what we have done for the day we feel we have done nothing. And that’s because we haven’t moved anything forward that important to us. 

The 2+8 Prioritisation technique solves this because it gives you a total of ten tasks that you identify are important to you. Two of which are critical MUST DO objective tasks. This then gives you a focus for the day and still allows you enough flexibility to manage other people’s issues as they arise. 

What happens when you practice the 2+8 Prioritisation technique is you get to choose what you work on each day. The night before, you sit down with your list of work that needs doing and identify what tasks would have the biggest impact on your projects and goals. Pick ten of those and make it a priority to complete them all. No excuses. When you do complete them you know you’ve had a productive day and you have done enough. Of course, if you have time and you still have enough energy, then you can go into your next actions list and start completing some of those tasks. But, the important thing is you are doing the ten tasks you decided were important to complete that day and you do whatever it takes to complete them. 

Sometimes I think we are a little hard on ourselves. We are not machines. We are human beings. There are days we get plenty of sleep, wake up the next day and feel fantastic! And there are days we don’t get enough sleep or we wake up with a bad cold or in a bad mood and our energy is very low. That’s natural and is just something we have to deal with on a day to day basis. A lot of the time it is really just about doing whatever you can based on your feeling and mood that day. Hopefully, you have more good days that bad. 

This is really why it is important that you take care of your health. Eat healthily, get enough sleep and exercise. If you really want to be performing at your best every day and getting all the things that are important to you done, then these are important things that should be put on your calendar. There’s a reason why super successful people like Tim Cook, Sir Richard Branson and Jack Dorsey exercise every day. They understand that to perform at their very best they have to take care of their health and well-being. You get a lot more done, you feel good and it gives you a routine every day that encourages great work and more consistent moods and energy levels. 

With all that said, the biggest change you could make, Tony, is you make sure every day you have a plan. Plan out what you want to accomplish for the day and when done making the plan tell yourself if you complete all those ten tasks (not including your regular routine tasks) you will have had a very productive day. 

Now don’t be greedy and give yourself too many tasks. I spent years figuring out that all you need is ten important tasks per day to move all the right things forward. When you start being greedy and plan fifteen to twenty tasks a day you are going to find yourself rescheduling a lot of tasks and that will make you feel you are not doing enough. Be realistic and stick to ten tasks. You ARE going to be interrupted and you ARE going to be dragged off into other people’s crises. That’s just a part of life. 

One of the things I remind myself of regularly is that Rome was not built in a dayand that all great work takes time. Doing a little every day soon builds up and that’s how you complete big projects, it how skyscrapers are built, it’s how books are written and how, in my case, online courses are made. They are not made in a day and you need to understand that doing a little every day will take you towards the finish line on almost every thing you decide to do—eventually. 

One final tip is to make sure you focus on one thing at a time. I know I have just said doing a little each day soon creates a finished project, another reason you may be feeling you are not doing enough is because you are doing too much on too many things at once. This is something I used to do. I used to have multiple projects ongoing at one time and this meant the time I spent on each was very small. This left me feeling I wasn’t doing enough. To change that I realised I needed to focus on less each month. These days I practice a system where I am working on one big project every six weeks. I know most big projects will take no more than six weeks to complete and so I only have one big project ongoing at any one time. This means I can focus all my energies on that project. 

That doesn’t mean I am not doing anything else, I am still doing all my regular content, but it also means in between doing that work, I am working on that one project. It helps me stay focused on the important things and I know that something special will be finished every six weeks. 

Now for this to work you do need to plan ahead a little. I planned out my whole year with a particular focus in the first two or three projects at the beginning of the year. I left the second half of the year flexible because I know things and situations change over time. But I do still have a list of projects I want to complete this year and each quarter I review my list and decide which two projects I will work on in the next quarter. 

At the end of the day, it all comes down to having a realistic plan for the day and making sure you have enough flexibility built in to handle other stuff that WILL come up. Then giving yourself credit and knowing that if you do complete your plan for the day you will have had a productive day. 

So, Tony, don’t be too hard on yourself. Make sure you complete your 2+8 Priority tasks each day and know that as long as you complete these you will have had a VERY productive day. 

Thank you for your question and thank you all for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer on this podcast, all you have to do is get in touch either by email or by DMing me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

Why Checklists Should Form The Core Of Your Productivity

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Podcast 78

This week’s episode is a special episode and is all about making sure you achieve the things you want to achieve each day.

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 78 of the 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, in a slight change to the usual format I want to give you some tips on maintaining your focus on what is important to you.

I’ve recently finished reading The Checklist Manifesto by Dr Atul Gawande, a physician from the US. It’s a brilliant book and I highly recommend it. (I’ve put a link to the book in the show notes) 

In the book, Dr Gawande talks about how in almost every complex business from complex construction projects, to flying aircraft you will find a checklist. Now as those of you listening to this podcast are likely to be interested in becoming better organised and more productive as well learning how to achieve the goals you set for yourself I realised as I was reading that we can apply the ideas in this book to keep us focused on what is important to us.

As I was reading the book, I was thinking about how I could apply these ideas to my own system and I began to formulate an idea around a morning and evening checklist. Not a routine, but a checklist to make sure I was doing all the important things I needed to do to ensure I have the best day possible. After all, to achieve your goals, to be happy and to perform at your very best every day all you need to do is apply some daily actions consistently. After all, to improve your golf game requires consistent practice - you are not going to get your handicap down if you only practice or play once or twice a year. If you are serious about becoming better at golf you have to practice much more frequently. 

Now the key to a good checklist, according to the book, is it needs to be short and very clear. You’d be surprised how short a pre-flight checklist for a commercial airliner is. Just google it and you’ll see. The idea is you only need to check the vital things. The things that matter most and if you did not do them there could be a catastrophic failure. 

So as I began thinking about this I realised there are a number of things I need to do each day that would give me the best day possible. The first is my morning routine of 30 minutes of Korean study, 15 minutes planning and review and 15 minutes meditation. These three parts of my morning routine, when done, always puts me in the right frame of mind to tackle the day with positivity and energy. It sets me up for a great day. 

So for a morning checklist, I need to add “Have I done my morning rituals?”

Next up is the make sure I have all the right materials with me for the classes I am teaching in the morning. Now I operate a paperless system for my teaching materials and keep all documents in Notability. So I need to check that the right materials are in my Notability app on my iPad. So, next up on my morning checklist goes “are all teaching materials downloaded onto my iPad?” 

Another check I put on my morning checklist is “Have I planned today’s exercise?” I’ve found if I plan my exercise for the day in the morning I am much more likely to make sure it is done. If I don’t plan it in the morning I either waste valuable time thinking about what to do or I find an excuse not to do it. 

The final check on my morning checklist is “have I given Barney his medicine?” Although I rarely forget this, I know it is possible if something urgent was on my mind, so it is something I need to make sure I have done. 

And that’s really all I would need to put on my morning checklist. Just four things:

Have I done my morning rituals?

Are all teaching materials downloaded onto my iPad?

Have I planned my exercise for today?

Have I given Barney his medicine?

However, the evening checklist is quite different. This one sets up the day for a great day much more so than my morning checklist. This is about avoiding those little annoyances we all get from time to time. Things like leaving the house and your phone only has 10% charge left. Or getting halfway to your place of work and discovering you left an important document at home. Things that with a little thought, and a checklist, can be avoided.

For my evening checklist I have the following:

Is my phone fully charged?

Does my iPad need charging?

Do I need to take my laptop with me tomorrow? 

Is there anything else I will need with me tomorrow? 

Now those four are the next day set up checks. After that, I have another list to make sure I have done all the things I know I need to do to complete my day. Things like:

Have I completed all my admin for the day?

Is all feedback written up and sent?

Did I do my exercise for the day? (If not why not?) 

Have I given Barney his evening medicine?

Is there anything I need to add to the shopping list? 

Have I written my journal?

Have I done something to move closer towards achieving my goals?

And that’s it. I discovered that all I need is 15 checks for the day to be a great day. 

Now for this to work I need to make sure I am completing these checks every day. It does not take long to go through each checklist either. The morning checklist takes 35 seconds and the evening one takes just over a minute. So for less than a 2-minute daily commitment, I can set up each day to be a fantastic day. 

Of course, I know I have to do the tasks themselves. Each one takes a different amount of time. My morning rituals, for example, take an hour, exercise also takes an hour and so does my daily admin tasks. But the checklists are there to make sure I am doing the things that are important to me and to ensure that I am moving forward each day on the things I have identified I want to achieve. 

Now the next step is to date the checklist. Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, has a whole department dedicated to creating checklists for their planes and each checklist is dated before publication. The reason for the date is to ensure that old and out of date checklists are not being used. Obviously, a good reason as planes are being updated all the time. By dating your checklists you can make sure that they are always up to date. Your life will change, new priorities will come along and old priorities will fall away. Regularly reviewing your checklists to make sure they are current will stop you from going numb to them. 

You can then start adding other checklists to a checklist folder too. For example, create a checklist for your weekly review, a checklist for presentation preparation and a travel checklist. I have had a presentation checklist for years because I’ve always used a MacBook and in Korea, we live in a PC world. I need to make sure I have all the right cables and adapters with me. That checklist has saved me so many times because I have moved a cable or adapter from my bag and discovered it wasn’t where it should be when I did my check.

The final piece of this system is to create a folder or tag in your notes app to keep your checklists. I did think about keeping them in my to-do list manager, but then all these checks would just fill up my to-do list manager and it would become very messy indeed. 

Instead, I created a notebook in Evernote for all my checklists. I will be creating more over the coming weeks. 

For airlines, there are the standard pre-flight checklists they use for every flight made, there are also checklists for pre-taxi and for landing the plane. These are now digital and come up on the flight screens in the cockpit. 

However, they also have a whole book of checklists for different situations that may occur during the flight. Those are fortunately rarely used, but if they are needed they are kept in a book next to the pilot. and as with the checklists on a plane where there is a book (or iPad) full of them in an easily accessible place for the pilots to pull out when they need them, I want to have a place in Evernote where I can easily pull up the relevant checklist whenever I need them. Evernote seems to me the best place for these. 

Evernote allows me to link the checklist to a note in my To-do list, so all I need is a linked task set to repeat every day which says “Do start of day checklist” and a repeating task for the evening which says “Do end of day checklist”. As the checklists take around a minute at most to complete doing these tasks will not prove to be burdensome. 

It also means all I need to do is create a linked task for any travel projects I have for my travel checklist as well as any other checklists I create over the next few weeks. 

In our effort to stay productive, have more time to do the things we want to do and achieve the goals we set for ourselves, the humble checklist is something that could push you towards achieving all those things. They are simple, they work and have been used for years to great success. All you need to do is keep them as short as you possibly can, make sure what you write is simple and clear and most of all you use them when you need to use them. 

How To Start Achieving Your Goals

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In this week’s episode of the working with Podcast I answer a question about getting clear about your goals.

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Hello and welcome to episode 77 of the 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 really getting clear about your goals so the next steps become obvious.

Before we get into this week’s question, I would like to let you know I have taken 25% off my Email Mastery online course. I know many of you really struggle to get your email under control and even when you do finally achieve the fabled inbox zero, within a few minutes your inbox is filling up again. 

This course will give you the tactics and know-how to get your email under control and to keep it that way with only a little daily maintenance. You were not employed to spend all your days answering email, and you don’t have to. 

Take the Email Mastery course and finally get away from having to deal with overloaded inboxes forever.

Okay on to this week’s question and 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 Stephen. Stephen asks Carl I am really struggling to get started with my goals. I know what I want to do, but I am finding it really hard to get started. Do you have any tips that might help?

Thank you, Stephen, for your question. 

Now, goals are a very interesting thing to me. I was very fortunate when I was a teenager to be a track and field runner. I was lucky because I had some great coaches and at the end of every season I would sit down with my coach and discuss the season just finished. Look at my best times for the year and make a decision about what times I wanted to achieve next season and what races I wanted to do well in. 

I remember well the end of the 1984 season when I finished with personal records of 2 minutes and 6 seconds for the 800 metres and 4 minutes 16 seconds for the 1,500 metres. My coach and I decided that 1985 would be the season I would break 2 minutes for the 800 and 4 minutes for the 1,500. 

We then put together a winter training programme that would build my strength and head in to the spring training season where we would work on speed endurance training to get my fitness and strength up to the level so I could break those barriers. 

That focus on a specific outcome—breaking 2 minutes and 4 minutes—was simple. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve and it had a time line—by the end of September 1985—this meant that throughout the winter of 1984/85 I was focused on one goal - achieving what I called “the double sub”. 

And that’s how you need to be to achieve your goals too. What’s the outcome and what do I need to do to achieve that outcome in a specific period of time. 

Too often goals are too vague. Goals such as to loose weight, to run a faster 10k time or to get a promotion. These goals are not specific enough. How much weight do you want to lose and by when? What time do you want to run the 10K? Under 1 hour? What position do you want to be promoted to? It’s this kind of specific you need to get to. 

Let’s take the promotion goal. I get this one quite a lot with my language students. I will ask a student what do you want to improve your English? And the reply is usually “So I can get a promotion”. Okay, so I’ve established that improving English is not the real goal here. Improving English is just a part of a bigger goal. When I ask the student what position do you want to be promoted to, they often don’t know. They are just thinking in terms of the next step up.

You see this does not work. The next step up is not ambitious enough for you to get truly motivated. Basically, if you do a reasonable job at your current level and don’t make too many mistakes, you will eventually get that promotion. And deep down you know that. 

What you need to be doing is thinking much farther ahead. Where do you really want to end up? What position do you want to be in in 10 years time? Let’s say you are a junior finance administrator at your company today, but in ten years you want to be CFO. Great now that’s a fantastic goal to go for. 

Okay, so what do you need to become the CFO of your company? If you don’t already have it, perhaps a degree in accountancy, Your CPA qualifications, maybe an MBA. And that’s just the academic qualifications. What about the skills you will need. Leadership, strategic planning, management etc. There’s a lot to figure out. 

So let’s look again at Stephen’s question. How do you get started once you know what you want to achieve. 

The first thing to do is to create a time line to success. Create a simple line across a piece of paper and on the right hand side write 2019. At the other end of the line write 2029. So now you have a line that represents ten years. 

Now on that timeline write out what you have to do to achieve the position of CFO by 2029. Mark years off along the way. For example, by the end of 2020, you will have completed your degree in accountancy. Great. What do you need to do next? Perhaps get your CPA qualifications. Okay, get that on your timeline. Keep going until you have completed everything you decided needed to be done to achieve the CFO position. 

Now, as we are currently in 2019, you need to expand on whatever needs to be achieved this year. If you really are just starting out, you may need to find a university to study your accountancy degree. You will need to apply to that university. You may need to decide whether to study full or part-time. A lot of decisions to make. These need to be made into a project and added to your to-do list manager. 

There are no shortcuts. There’s a lot of decisions to be made and a big goal like becoming your company’s CFO in ten years time will need breaking down into it’s component parts. Beginning the year by asking yourself what do I have to accomplish this year that will take me a step closer to becoming the CFO? That’s where you start. Apply to universities to get enrolled into an accountancy course. Commit sufficient time each day / week to your studies and focus on completing that step. Once you have your degree, move on to the next step and keep going. Review, evaluate where to go next and get moving. 

To achieve your big goals needs a lot of patience, action, consistency and time. (PACT) but before you get to building on these cornerstones you need to have a plan in place on a timeline. You need to know the steps to get there. Once you know the steps, you can then take the first step, break it down in to actionable tasks to perform so you have a place to start. 

Back to my running story, because I had a very simple goal, that I gave a nickname to “The Double Sub” all that winter I trained very hard. I came in to the spring stronger, leaner and determined to hit my goal. By the end of June, I had run 1 minute 54 for the 800 and 4 minutes 3 seconds for the 1500. I was so close, and that gave me the determination to give it one more push. I worked so hard in July to improve my speed endurance so I could get under that elusive 4 minutes and at the end of July, I ran 3.58.9. By the end of the season, my times stood at 1.54.2 for the 800 and 3.54.8 for the 1500. 

For me, the lesson I learnt in 1984 and 1985 has stayed with me ever since. All goals are achievable if you make them simple, clear and are determined enough to achieve them. As long as you stay focused on them, are will to do the work necessary to achieve them and are prepared to push that extra mile to get there you will get there. 

But it always starts with that first step. You will achieve nothing unless you are willing to take that first step. Cemeteries are full of people with unrealised dreams and goals because they never took that first step. They never established what the first task was and they never went that extra mile to make it happen. Don’t let that happen to you. Do the planning, create the time line and take the necessary action to make it happen. 

This is where your to-do list comes in. Once you have done your planning, you need to take the first part of your goal and make it a project in your to-do list manager. Then create recurring tasks that will take you closer towards achieving the goal for the year. If you want to break 1 hour for a 10k make sure you have your daily training in your to-do list manager. If you want to finish your degree in accountancy, make sure you have your reading and studying tasks in your to-do list manager. Break everything down into daily tasks and make sure they are coming up on your daily to-do list every day. Only by taking action consistency over a period of time will you get to where you want to go. 

I hope that has answered your question, Stephen. I know so many people really struggle with setting and achieving goals, but as I say, when you use a simple piece of paper and draw out a timeline, then turn you goals into small, daily activities, you will amaze yourself about what you can achieve. 

Good luck and thank you.

Thank you also to all of you for listening and don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, then get in touch either by email or by DMing on Facebook or Twitter. 

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

How To Get Started Once You Have Your Productivity System In Place


Podcast 77

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting to the next level of productivity mastery.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 76 of the 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.

A quick reminder for all you in the UK: this week, on Saturday (20th April) I will be co-hosting a FREE life and Time Mastery Workshop in Scunthorpe. It’s an all-day workshop where Kevin Blackburn and I will be sharing with you some great tips and tricks to develop and achieve your goals using tried and tested techniques. All the details are on my website. It would be fantastic to be able to meet you. So get yourself registered. Registration will be closing in the next 24 hours or so, so don’t delay. 

Okay, on to this week’s question and 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 Alex. Alex asks: Hi Carl, I’ve been following GTD and your COD system for some time now, but still feel Stressed out about everything I have to do. Is there something I am missing?

Great question Alex. This is something I have been writing about recently and that is moving to a higher state of organisation and productivity. 

You see, having all your tasks, events, ideas and notes perfectly organised, is one thing. It's a very important one thing, but it is just the start. To move to the next level, so to speak, is to be in a state where no matter how much you have to do, you are completely comfortable doing what you are doing right now. 

A mistake I see a lot of people making is not making any decision about what it is they have collected. Let’s say your boss asks you to develop some ideas for a sales campaign next month. So you collect the task and write “develop some ideas for sales campaign next month”

Now that’s a good start, a clearly written task. Then what they do is either create a project or move that task to an area of focus and then move on to the next task they collected. 

 Here's the problem. You’ve not made a decision on that task. What happens next? What exactly do you have to do to make that task complete? How will you present your sales campaign ideas to your boss? Will you send them a written document or will you be presenting your ideas? When will you develop those ideas? These are the micro decisions that need to happen to get this task completely off your mind. Knowing exactly what you need to do next and when you are going to allocate time to do it

These undecided tasks are what, in GTD speak, are called open loops. Sure you collected the task and got it into your system, but as there is no decision made on it about what needs to happen next and when then you are not going to be able to completely let go of it in your mind. 

If you have a lot of tasks in your system like that—tasks that have no next action or decisions made on them—you are still going to feel overwhelmed and busy. Your brain is not going to trust that you have them externalised properly. 

Now it’s okay to not make a decision on something. That in itself is a decision, but you still need to decide when you are going to review it. Let's say you receive an invitation to a party in 6 months time but you are not sure if you will able to go or not. Making a decision not to make a decision until 3 months before the event is a decision. Add a task “decide whether to go to Derek’s party or not” and date it for three months later is fine. You have decided to postpone a decision. Now that will be off your mind because you know you are going to come back to it in 3 months time. 

In three months if you still are not sure, just change the review date and review it again later. There is nothing wrong with rescheduling decisions like this. You have made a conscious decision not to make a decision right now and that is a decision. 

Another reason for not feeling completely at ease with what you have to do is you have not done a complete mind-dump (again, another GTD phrase) what this means is you have got everything on your mind out of your mind and into your system. 

I’ve found with my coaching clients when they do an initial mind-dump they get around 75% of what’s on their mind out, but there’s still 25% lurking in there somewhere. It can take a few days to get everything out. This is why I recommend you take a piece of paper or a cheap notebook and carry it around with you for a few days. Things you need to do or remember will come at you from all places and you can quickly get them down onto the paper and then later, get them into your system. These ‘hard to reach’ tasks, events and ideas come eventually. When they do you can make the necessary decisions about what you want to do with them. Again, it may be you don’t want to do anything with them yet and that’s okay. Put them in a folder called “Someday | Maybe” and make a decision about when you will review them.

I review my Someday | Maybe folder every three months. Nothing in there is urgent or current. When I do review the folder, I find I delete off a lot of projects and ideas which is a great way to keep this folder from overflowing with stuff you are never likely to do anyway. Again, be comfortable deleting these “never going to do” tasks and ideas. If you do find the idea or task comes back to you, then you can always add it again. That’s something that very rarely happens for me, but does happen from time to time. 

Another reason for not feeling completely relaxed about everything is although you have everything in your system, your system is not organised in a way that works for you. This usually occurs because you have tried to copy someone else’s organisation system. I used to do that. I would read a great new way to organise my notes using a combination of notebooks and tags and then after spending several days reorganising everything I found I could not find anything I wanted to find. 

Eventually, the penny dropped and I realised I had to work out for myself how I would naturally look for something. This can be hard because we have picked up filing and organisation systems in the various jobs we have done in the past. My first experience in an office, for example, used a simple alphabetical filing system using folders and filing cabinets. I soon discovered this was my natural way for organising things. Alphabetically. So that is how I have all my notes organised. I created a digital filing cabinet system in Evernote using alphabetically organised tags and I’ve never had a problem finding anything since. It’s incredibly simple—embarrassingly so—but it’s also very effective. It also means when I process my notes inbox I can process very quickly because my brain is using its natural filing methodology. 

Be careful about copying other people’s system. It’s a great way to get new ideas and to breathe new life into a tired and uninspiring system, but if your system is boring it usually means its’ working because you don’t have to think about it. When you don’t have to think about your system you have reached a very high level of organisation. Things just get collected, organised and done. Exactly what you are wanting to achieve. 

Finally, trusting your system in a key part of reducing stress and overwhelm. If you don’t trust that you have collected everything that matters to you, or you don’t trust your to-do list is showing you everything you need to see on the right day, then you are going to feel stressed. Trust is not something you will get immediately either. It is only through continued use and practice that trust will develop. It can take anywhere between a couple of weeks to several months to finally get to the point where you know what you see on your daily to-do list and on your calendar is exactly what you need to see. Don’t despair. Be patient. It does come eventually. Stick with one system, modify where you feel it does not work and make sure you learn how to use your chosen tools properly. 

Find apps that work for you. If you are a visual person and you like to see projects and areas of focus arranged in cards, then apps like Asana and Trello might be the best tools for you. If you like to see things more linearly then apps like Todoist are likely to work better for you. Give yourself permission to experiment. It is important that the tools you use work best for you. But… Once you have made your decision, stick with it. Only change apps if, after a few months, they really don’t work for you. Changing apps every few weeks will destroy your trust and takes up a lot of time having to take stuff from your existing system and move it over to your new system. 

So there you go, Alex. I hope that has helped and given you a few ideas about how you get yourself to the next level of productivity. It’s a great level to achieve because when you know you have everything decided upon and it is organised in a way you can find quickly and you trust your system you will feel a huge sense of relief and that overwhelm and stress you fee will disappear. 

Thank you all for listening and I hope to see many of you in Scunthorpe on Saturday at the Life and Time Mastery Workshop. 

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

How To Get Started on Your Productivity Journey

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Podcast 76

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting started once you have created your system.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 76 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 actually getting started once you have a system in place. I know I produce a lot of content that concerns setting up a system, but there’s not a great deal of content out there about actually getting started once you have a system in place. So I will change that this week. 

The answer to this question will also help you if you have fallen off the wagon, so to speak, and will help you get back on and get started again. We all fall off from time to time and so having a few strategies that allow you to get back when it does happen is always a good idea. 

Don’t forget if you have taken my FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD system course you get a huge discount on the 2019 Your Digital Life course. Details of the discount are in the COD course. Your Digital Life takes you to the next level by showing exactly how to build your goals, projects and routines into daily activities so nothing gets missed. AND… You also get a FREE workbook, a FREE copy of Your Digital Life 2.0 book as well as FREE access to my Email Productivity and Ultimate Goal Planning courses. That’s excellent value for money, it’s almost like giving away a whole productivity course. Details of both courses are in the show notes.

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

This week’s question comes from Frank. Frank asks: Hi Carl, I have just read your book Your Digital Life and I have read GTD. the problem I have now is where do I start? I have everything in place inbox, projects and areas of focus, but there seems to be too much for me to do. Can you help? 

Hi Frank, thank you for your fantastic question. 

 The first thing we need to understand is that our to-lists are never going to stop filling up. Life will always throw up far more than we can ever do. I think most people begin to realise that after a while. It’s why inbox zero only lasts for a few minutes. As soon as we get our email inbox down to zero, pretty soon more email will begin arriving. It just isn't going to stop. 

So that’s the first thing we all have to accept. Zeroing everything out is temporary. Clean everything out, take your dog for a walk and when you get back you will have stuff accumulating again. 

So where do you start? Well, just start at the top and keep going. That’s really all there is to it. Of course, things are a bit more complicated than that. Some things will be more important than others. Some tasks are time sensitive, others less so. 

Part of becoming more productive is developing skills that will help you to prioritise. Which of all your collected tasks need to be done sooner rather than later? Which tasks, if you did right now, would take a lot of pressure off you? And which tasks have your attention right now? All those should be dealt with first. These tasks will be taking up a lot of mental energy and so the sooner you either do them or make a decision on when you will do them the better. 

Quite often all you need to do once you have everything in your system is to go through all your projects and areas of focus and decide what needs to happen next to get things moving forward. It’s surprising how by spending an hour or so doing a weekly review you soon get everything moving forward and you begin to relax. 

But before that, The primary objective when you start using any kind of productivity or time management system is to build trust in your system. If things get missed and you are not seeing what you need to see when you need to see it, you will not trust your system and when that happens you stop using it and you’re back where you started. Blaming yourself or the system for you not being able to be productive. Having trust needs to be objective number one. When you trust you are collecting everything as it comes to mind, you are collecting your great ideas and all events are put on to your calendar—that’s when you begin to relax and great things happen. If you don't trust your system you will have tasks in your to-do list and they will still be in your head. You’re duplicating. When you trust your system, your mind can let go knowing everything is collected and is either processed or will be processed very soon. 

Now, where do you start? Well once you know what has your attention you need to establish what is time sensitive and what tasks will have the biggest impact on your projects you can begin doing the work. Start with those. As you complete those tasks you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment. You will feel yourself relaxing, becoming less stressed because the things that are most pressing are getting done. 

At the end of the workday, spend a few minutes organising what you collected. Deal with the most urgent, process the rest so you will see them when you need to see them and enjoy the rest of the day. 

What I have found is we become more stressed and feel more overwhelmed when we don't get whatever is on our mind out of there and into a place we know we will check later. Being more productive isn't about doing a lot of work in less time, being more productive is about doing the work that matters and discarding the stuff that doesn't matter. To do that takes courage. 

It’s very easy to think everything that comes our way is important. It’s much harder to make decisions about whether something really is important or not. But if you really want to get control of your time so you can spend more of it doing the things you want to do, that is something you are going to have to do. 

I get a lot of requests to review apps from hard-working app developers. I feel for them because I know it’s incredibly hard to come up with the idea, develop the concept and to them build the app. That takes a lot of time and hard work. I also love looking at and trying new productivity apps. But I am not an app reviewer and I really don't have the time to review an app properly. I am very clear about the things I want to spend my time doing. So I politely decline any offers that come my way. The truth is there are people out there who would do a far better job reviewing apps. So although I really want to help these developers get noticed, I know reviewing apps is not my thing and so I say no. 

It’s hard to say no, but it is better for me and for the developers that I do. That way I don’t waste anyone’s time. 

And that’s the way you need to become. Understand what is important to you so you can spend more time doing that and less time doing stuff you don’t enjoy or don’t want to do. 

Of course, I know that isn’t always easy when the stuff you don’t like doing is given to you by your boss or customer. But we also get a lot of opportunities each day that look very attractive, but at the end of the day are just going to suck time away from you and prevent you from doing the things that really matter—those time-sensitive tasks that do need doing today. 

So go through your task list, decide what has your attention and what is time sensitive and prioritise those tasks. You can add a date, add a flag or create labels or tags that tell you whether something is important or not. You can decide to focus on one project and get that project completed by the end of the week. You do have a lot of freedom about where you want to put your attention. The thing is, once you have made a decision about where you want to put your focus you need to stick to the plan. There’s no point in having a plan for the day and then making it easy for you to change that plan just because you received an email that looks more attractive. You do not want to have too many tasks assigned each day, you do need to keep some flexibility in your day for those urgent requests from your customers or boss. But you do need a plan for the day. If you don’t have a plan, someone else will give you one and their plan is not going to be a very good plan for you. 

The secret is really all about knowing what has your attention and making sure you have made a decision on what you are going to do about it and when. When you have instilled that practice and it becomes a habit, then you will find everything slips into place and you start getting a lot of very important work done and at the same time your stress levels fall and you start to feel much more relaxed about doing what you are doing. 

So, make sure you are collecting everything that has your attention. Then when you process that stuff, ask yourself what you need to do about it and when and if you decide it is not important and is not going to contribute to your overall life plan then get rid of it. Being more productive is all about saying no to a lot of things and sousing all your energy on the things that you decide is important. 

If everything is out of your head and into a trusted system and you know what needs your attention will show up when you need it to show up, then you are well on your way to becoming super-productive. 

I hope that has helped, Frank and thank you so much for your question. 

Don’t forget if you have a question about productivity, time management, GTD or goal planning, get in touch either by email ( or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All my contact links are in the show notes.

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

How To Breathe Life Into a Tired Uninspiring To-do List

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Podcast 74

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting your to-do list under control and making it more inspiring.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 74 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 cleaning up an out-of-control to-do list and how to make it more inspiring—something I don’t think we think very much about when we create our to-do lists. 

Before we dive into the answer, I’d just like to let you all know—in case you missed it—My learning centre is currently having a huge March Madness Sale. In this sale, you can get yourself a 35% discount on ALL my courses AND coaching programmes. 

As we are rapidly approaching the end of the first quarter on 2019, if you are finding yourself a little out of motivation or need a big boost to kick start your year, this would be a great time to get yourself a great deal on a course or a coaching programme. Details of the sale are available in the show notes. 

Oh and if you are in the UK on the 20th April and have some free time, I will be doing a workshop in Scunthorpe with Kevin Blackburn—The Life Success Engineer— called Life and Time Mastery. This is a FREE workshop and we’d love to see you there. Our goal is to help you to create your life’s goals and then show you how you can turn those goals into action steps you can take every day to make them happen. A link to the registration page is in the show notes. 

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

This week’s question comes from Helena. Helena asks; Hi Carl, my to-do list is a mess and I don't find it inspiring at all. I hate going in there. Is there anything I can do to get it under control and make it more inspiring? 

That’s a fantastic question, Helena! And I know a lot of people struggle with this one. In our excitement of getting ourselves more organised and productive we throw everything into our shiny new to-do lists and create a lot of projects—and I mean a lot. On top of that, the way we write out tasks can often be confusing. This means we end up with a to-do list manager that may have felt nice for a few days but now leaves us feeling confused and uninspired to do anything about. 

One of the things I find is, as time goes by we learn the best way to write tasks but in the initial stages of playing around with our new to-do list manager we are less focused on how we write our tasks and more focused on what our to-do list app can do. This is often the reason why we end up with a very complicated hierarchy of projects and sub-projects. We create sub-projects because we can rather than because we need to. 

But the biggest problem we experience is when we go out into the world and begin our new lives as organised and productive people. When we set up our to-do list manager we imagine walking into work, opening up our today list and start doing the tasks from the top. Completing our tasks by the end of our work day and coming home in a relaxed, happy state, ready to do it all again the next day. 

Sadly, the real world introduces email, instant messages, phone calls, bosses and colleagues who think nothing of interrupting you to give you more work. If we are sharp we collect that stuff and add it to our inboxes, if not, we slip back in to old habits and leave it in our heads hoping we will remember to do it later—which we often don't. Pretty soon we are back where we started—a disorganised mess. 

So, what can we do to keep things organised, inspiring and moving forward?

Well, first take a look at your to-do list manager. How many projects do you have in there? Are they really projects or just stuff you hope to get round to one day? How are those projects written? Do you feel excited when you look at those projects? Writing out your summer holiday project as simply “summer holiday” is not exciting. Writing it out as “ Our summer holiday to Prague” is much more likely to initiate a more positive feeling. A feeling that you would like to do something about it. 

The same applies to how you write your tasks. I know this might sound a bit simplistic but if you write something like “buy dog food” that task does not really have any emotional value. Now, if you own a dog, You really care about him or her, I know I do. So if I have to buy anything for my dog, I would always write the task out as “buy Barney some more snacks”. Now when I see that task on my list I also see my little boy in my mind. Much more emotional and it is less likely I will postpone the task to another day. 

Little things like this might seem simplistic and silly, but they can have a very big impact on the way you feel about your tasks when you see them on a list. “Prepare curriculum outline for Jenny” sounds much better than just “prepare curriculum outline” or “pick up prescription for Steve” is better than “pick up prescription” 

When you use a person’s name in the task it gives it more meaning. It’s more human, more intimate than a cold uninspiring task written like “get sales reports”. 

While on the subject of tasks, writing tasks out so they are more clear is important. For example, I often see people writing tasks out like “call Sarah”. Now the problem with writing tasks like this is that “call Sarah” might make sense when you write the task initially, but five days later when the task comes up on your today list “call Sarah” probably won’t mean anything and you have to waste valuable time thinking about why you need to call Sarah. It is far better to write “call Sarah about SWX Conference next year” Now you have the purpose of the call written within the task and you will know immediately why you need to call Sarah.

Moving on to your projects. It’s a good idea to go through all your projects periodically to ask the question “why am I doing this project?” Often I find I created a project and three months later the project is still there with the exact same tasks I had when I first created that project. The project is stuck. It hasn’t moved anywhere. Now after three months if a project has not moved there is something wrong. That’s the time to ask the question “Why am I doing this project”. If it hasn’t moved for three months it’s obviously not important. If the project was meaningful in some way it would have moved somewhere in three months. To me, a project that hasn’t moved for three months needs to be removed. Either I will archive it (knowing, if it is meaningful, I can always re-create it) or I will move the project to my someday | maybe list until I am ready to make it active again. 

Seriously, be honest with yourself. If a project has not moved in three months, will it ever move or is it there just in case you decide to do something with it later?

You can also do this with your work projects. I frequently find a boss will tell her team about a new project they are going to be involved with, and as good organised and productive people we create the project in our work project list and then we wait. And we wait and we wait. Six months later that project is still in our projects list but nothing has happened. Guys… Let me tell you something…. It is never going to move. Your boss has already forgotten about it and it’s off the radar. Remove it. If by some miracle your boss suddenly remembers it, you can always recreate the project later. 

Now if you are in the areas of focus world—that is organising your projects by areas of focus rather than individual projects—you should go through each area asking are they really areas you want to put your focus on? You may have thought a few months ago that you’d like to focus on maintaining a clean working environment, but several months later your enthusiasm for keeping your workspace clean, tidy and organised has wained a little and you are no longer doing anything about it. Either keeping a clean workspace is important to you or it isn’t. If it is, put some life back into that area of focus or if it isn’t, delete the area. Again, you can always recreate it later if you decide you would like to focus on it after all. 

To maintain a functioning to-do list manager, you need to keep it maintained and functioning. Filling up your to-do list manager with “hope to” or “wish to” projects is never going to work well. It will become overwhelming and uninspiring because you will have a lot of dormant projects and tasks in there. Purge and purge again. Never be afraid to purge. You can always recreate your projects anytime if they become active in the future.

Your to-do list manager needs to be a power-plant of activity. Tasks coming in and tasks getting completed. When there’s a lot of activity going on in there it will be naturally inspiring. When there’s little to no activity, and your projects list rarely changes it becomes boring and uninspiring. That’s when you get that feeling you are just going round and round in circles. 

Finally, stop overcomplicating your lists. This really is an inspiration killer. Sure it might be cool to be able to create six levels of child hierarchy, but having a deep level of child projects just makes things complicated. When your brain sees complexity it will resist. Try to keep things as simple as you can and have some hard edges between the different types of inputs you get. A task goes into your task list manager, a note goes into your notes app and an event goes on your calendar. Almost all modern apps will allow you to cross-link these different inputs. For example, you can add a link to a note to a task in your task list manager which will then allow you to click the link and be immediately taken to the relevant note. Or you can add the note link to the calendar event so you can quickly access the note when you see the event on your calendar. 

So there you go, Helena. I hope that has helped to breath new life into your to-do list manager. You are going to need to spend a little time doing some to-do list manager CPR over the next few days, but it will be worth it. Be very clear about why you are doing a project and if you really don’t want to do it just delete it. If a project has been dormant for more than three months either delete it or move it to a someday | maybe file. Don’t leave it hanging around taking up space. And make your tasks more human. Use people’s names and be very clear about what it is you want to do when you do that task. Don’t rely on your memory to remember… It won’t.

Thank you for the question and thank you to you all for listening to this show. If you have a question you would like answering on this show, then please email me at or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

How I Organise My Digital Files

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Podcast 73

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to organise all you digital files.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 73 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 from many people about how to name and manage your digital files. A dangerous topic as I know a few people have some very strong views on filing and how to organise their digital data. But, I’m not one for running away from difficult topics and so in this episode, I will share with you how I organise my own files and let you decide if my system is worth trying. 

Don’t forget, if you have enrolled in my From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 days course you now have a nice update waiting for you. I have updated a few of the existing parts but more excitingly I have added an extra day. This one is Day 4 and Beyond and it gives you a number of strategies to help you to maintain your system once you have it up and running and it comes face to face with the world. 

Just head over to your dashboard on my learning centre and you will find everything you need right there. 

Any of you haven’t enrolled yet, then you can enrol in this fantastic beginners course and get yourself an early-bird discount. All the details are in the show notes.

Okay, onto the question and 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 Emile, Dennis and Sally. They ask: How do you manage your files on your computer, Carl? 

Thank you all for your question. 

Now, this is apparently a controversial subject. Many people have their own filing methodology and best practices that they swear by and anything else is wrong, wrong, wrong. 

The truth is, of course, is a little more complex than that. Each of us thinks differently. We organise our things differently and our brains are wired differently. This means the only right way to organise your files and folders is the way that works for you. 

Now I organise my folders by year. I’m told this is a stupid way of organising files, but I’ve been organising by year since 1997 and I have never had a problem finding files I want even if the last time I looked at a file was 10 years ago. 

The reason I organise by year is that the older a file is, the less likely I am going to need it. As the years go by the likelihood I will need the file decreases. For example, if I did a workshop for a client 5 years ago, the materials for that workshop would now be out of date. However, if there were some parts of the workshop I would like to reuse. I would then go to my 2014 folder (which is now on an external hard drive labelled 2012 - 2015) find the clients name and retrieve the workshop folder. I can then review the materials, select the parts I want to update and reuse and copy those into my 2019 client’s folder. 

I copy the contents because by the time I have finished updating the materials they will be different. That scenario is very rare though. 

On a day to basis, I use my computer’s build in search functionality. I work in the Apple environment. My computer’s a Mac and I also use an iPhone and iPad. So rather than reinventing the wheel I simply use Apple’s search and filing options. This means I use Spotlight to find files and iCloud to store my current files. 

By “current files” I mean files I am using at the moment or have been working on for the two or three months. 

What this means is Keynote files I am working at this moment are in my iCloud Keynote folder and tagged by company or personal. I only use 3 tags on my computer. CPP which I use for files related to my online course and coaching business, FES for files related to my language business and Personal for all my personal files. And the only reason I do use my computer’s built-in tagging system is so when I do have a lot of files in my iCloud Drive, I can find what I am looking for very easily. I don’t have that many Keynote files in my Keynote iCloud folder, but I do have a lot of files in my Number’s iCloud folder. I use Numbers for my daily admin records. Things such as income and expenditure as well as student attendance records and my social media campaigns. As I use these files almost every day, I want to be able to access them quickly. 

For all other documents, they will be filed in folders related to topic. For example, I have a folder in iCloud called “Online Courses” and inside that are all my online courses organised by folder for each course. I keep all the course thumbnails, outlines (which are done in Numbers) and other related documents. As most of my online courses are updated every year, this folder stays where it is. 

I also keep a folder with all the images I create for my blog posts, campaigns and other stuff. These are organised by month so they are easy to access if I want to modify and reuse them at a later date. I keep the Jpeg and original Photoshop file in this folder.

So how do I name files? I use dates again. And follow the standard format of year, month, day then the file type and finally the name of the file. Between each part, I use a dash. Being in the Apple environment dashes are compatible so I don't use underscores. 

This naming system works perfectly for me. When I do a coaching call with a client I use Spotlight to search the client's name and in the list of results, I will get a list, in date order, of all the previous call’s feedback. I can click on the last feedback document and I have what I need in front of me. 

To speed up the process of file naming, I use TextExpander and have a simple ‘snippet’ —as TextExpander calls them— of “fdate” this then gives me the current date in my filing format plus a dash. 

Now I don't go in for all this added complexity of updated dates or created or opened date. For me, the date I use is the date I created the file. With version history on almost all operating systems now I just don't need any of that added complexity. If I need to go back to a previous version I just use version history. 

What it comes down to is to create a filing system that works for you. Although many may criticise the way I organise my files, what matters is it works for me. All the files I am working on right now are easy to find and when they are finished with they are archived by the year and month I worked on them. 

Almost all operating systems have search functions that are fast and all you need to think about is the name of the file you are looking for. 

That means what you name a file is important. If you use a last name first name structure for example, would you really search for the music of Bob Dylan using the term “Dylan, Bob” probably not? Using the “Dylan, Bob” structure might work with a school attendance record, but it is not a natural way of thinking for us. 

Funnily enough, when I tested this using Spotlight on my computer, I got almost the same results whichever way I wrote Bob Dylan. 

So when it comes to organising your files and folders I would always recommend simplicity. The search function on your computers is so good now, you only need to be clear and consistent with your file naming. Folders could easily be optional today. A simple work and personal folder would pretty much allow you to keep things well organised. That, of course, does bring with it a number of problems though.

As it is so easy to find files now, it is also easy to leave files hanging around filling up your computer’s hard drive space. This is why I have a 2 terabyte external hard drive attached to my computer and when I finish a project I move that project’s folder to the 2019 folder I have created on that hard drive. I have a 2018 MacBook Pro with a 256 GB hard drive which means hard drive space is limited. If I am not currently working on a particular project it is archived onto the external hard drive. Anything I am working on regularly is stored in iCloud for access whenever I need it. 

That is why your file naming convention is more important than the way you manage your folders. With all this cloud storage available to us at a relatively low cost, and the fantastic search functionality of these cloud drives, you could very easily just have a long list of files and as long as you know what you are looking for, you will be able to very quickly find what you are looking for. 

I would always recommend you have some form of archival system in place though. Going by year is the easiest and most logical way, but you may prefer to archive using a clients name or type of file. That choice is yours. Whichever way you choose be consistent. As I have been using the same archival system for nearly twenty years, I don’t have a lot to think about if I want to find something I create a few years ago. I only need an approximate year as my archived hard-drives run between 3 and 4 years. Once I attach the hard drive to my computer I can perform a search for what I am looking for and as I have used the same naming system for many years I can use my computer’s search to find what I am looking for. 

A lot of the problems people face when it comes to organising files is really consistency or lack of consistency. If you keep changing the way you name files then it will become very complicated. Find a naming format that works best for the way you think and stick with it. Don’t try and be too clever, keep it as simple and logical as possible and you will be fine. 

You should also get to know your computer’s search abilities. I’m relatively new to using Apple’s Spotlight before I used an app called Alfred. While Alfred is excellent, I have found Spotlight gives me better search results and has speeded up my searches tremendously. And that saves a lot of time.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you to Emile, Dennis and Sally for your questions and thank you for listening. If you have a question you would like answering, then you can email me - or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. 

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

How to manage your energy levels through the day

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Podcast 72

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to manage your energy levels through the day.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 72 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 energy and how to maximise your energy for the day as well as managing your energy throughout the day so you stay fully energised all day.

Before we get into this week’s question and answer, I’d like to let all of you enrolled in my From Disorganised To Productivity Mastery in 3 Days course that the course has been updated for 2019. Now you have a completely new section called Day 4 And Beyond where I have added lessons to help you stay organised and productive once you have everything in place. All you have to do is go and log in to your dashboard and all the new classes are right there.

This is an excellent course for anyone who wants to get themselves better organised and more productive as it starts from the very beginning and after three days you will have everything in place to supercharge your productivity and reduce your stress, feelings of overwhelm and, more importantly, free up time so you can do the things that are truly important to you. 

If you are not enrolled yet, then check out the course. An early-bird discount is on right now. This course will change your life forever! 

Okay, 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 Sergio. Sergio asks: When I have the energy to do the important thing (let’s say in the morning), I don’t have the time to do it. When I have time (let’s say at the end of the workday) I don’t have the energy. Is there anything I can do to better manage my energy levels?

Thank you ... for your question Sergio. 

Managing your energy levels really starts with your preparation. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are not going to have enough energy to get you through the day. Likewise, if you are not taking enough breaks, eating the right foods and getting enough exercise, all these things will compound and reduce your daily energy levels. 

So what can you do to maintain your energy throughout the day? 

Well, let’s start with sleep. Okay, I know a lot of experts say you need between 8 and 10 hours sleep a day, but in reality, everybody is going to be different. Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, famously got by on 4 hours a night. Yet, many people claim they need at least 8 hours. Personally, I need around 6 hours. 

When it comes to sleep you need to discover what amount you need. If you are not sure, experiment for a week or two. You will soon find the amount you need. Once you know, make sure you get that sleep each night. This is a priority you cannot neglect. 

A lack of enough quality sleep is the biggest reason you will feel a lack of energy towards the end of the day, Sergio. And I emphasise the word quality. Quality sleep is far more important than the total number of hours you sleep. Make sure you go to bed at the right time, your phone and digital devices are on silent and are not lighting up every few minutes and your room is cool and quiet. 

Another thing that would really help, but not everyone can do it is to take power naps. I take around 20 to 30 mins mid-morning and that always helps me. If I am working on a new course or an update, I will often take two or three power naps per day. It’s two or three hours of intense work, followed by a 20-minute nap. That always helps and keeps my creativity high as well as my energy. Winston Churchill swore by his naps claiming that they enabled him to do a day and a half’s worth of work every day. 

Exercise. Okay, I know a lot of people shrink from the thought of having to do exercise, but exercise does not have to be hours in a gym or pounding the streets in your running shoes. Effective exercise could be just taking a 30 minute walk at lunchtime and in the evenings. It does not have to be strenuous. Not only will regular exercise boost your energy levels it will also improve your overall health. That’s a win win in anybody’s book.

You are going to have a lot more energy if you are doing three or four sessions of hard physical activity each week. But it does not have to be that way. Just spending some time each day walking is going to lift your energy levels enough to get you through the day. 

Now during the day if you find yourself feeling tired get up from your desk and find a reasonably sized flight of stairs and walk (or run) up them a couple of times. That act, of getting your blood racing through your veins, will lift your energy levels significantly. Over the years I have been exercising regularly, I would have to say that my regular exercise habit is the one thing that allows me to stay energised all day. Now, I am lucky, I get to schedule my own day as I work from home and I schedule my exercise sessions at 2pm. Doing exercise at that time nicely breaks up my day and gives me an energy boost mid-afternoon so I can continue to work with exceptionally high levels of energy well in to the evening. 


What you eat also has an impact on your energy levels. If you eat a carbohydrate rich lunch your energy levels are going to suffer in the afternoon. When your body starts processing all that carbohydrate you will experience a sugar dump and your energy levels will drop. 

I often joke that the worst time to do a presentation is between 2 and 4 pm. This is when your audience will be dropping off into sleep. And there’s a good tip for any presenters out there. If you are doing a presentation between 2 and 4 pm make sure your put a lot of energy into your presentation. Slides packed with data and text is a guaranteed way to put your audience to sleep. Just don’t do that… EVER! Anyway.

If you want higher energy levels then you need to eat better, energy giving food. Plenty of fruit and vegetables, clean proteins such as chicken, fish and other lean meats and go very easy on the sugary snacks. I’ve found having a bag of almonds around is a great source of energy giving food if you get those hunger pangs throughout the day. Bananas are also a wonderful source of slow release energy giving foods. 

And of course, make sure you are drinking plenty of water. It’s surprising how energy sapping a lack of water is. Make sure you have a bottle of water with you at all times. Keep sipping it throughout the day and you will find those periods of low levels of energy will reduce. 

Have a purpose when you are working on a task. 

Now I don't mean a life purpose here, what I mean is when you are working on a task you have a clear purpose and end in mind. Knowing what you are doing and why helps to keep your levels of enthusiasm for doing the task up. This mental boost keeps your brain engaged in the task. For many of things we do we think of them as a drudge. We don't know why we are doing them or they are things we feel we just have to do and so we do them without any enthusiasm. That always leads to lower levels of energy. 

Instead, think of all tasks as having a purpose. Even if it is you allow yourself to finish work a little earlier if you get the job done by a certain time. 

For me, whether I am writing, recording this podcast or my YouTube videos or creating videos for my online courses, the thought of being able to help people become better organised and productive gives me huge energy. That purpose motivates me and always helps me to push through when my energy is wilting. 

Find the reason you are doing the work you are doing. Who are you going to help, or who will benefit. Imagine their faces when you produce work on time and with a high degree of quality. That’s guaranteed to pull you out of your energy slump. 

Your energy levels are directly linked to your state of mind. Tony Robbins talks a lot of about this and it is true. If you are feeling down and a bit gloomy, your energy will also be down. If you are up and excited about what you are doing your energy levels will also be up. To get your state of mind up, make sure you are taking enough breaks and when I say “breaks” I don’t mean just sitting staring at a computer screen, I mean get away from your desk and move. Move as fast as you can. You need to get your heart rate up. That will boost your energy levels. You can try this experiment at work this week. Towards the end of the day as you are about to move in to you last working hour of the day, go and do a ten minute brisk walk - outside is best, but if you cannot get outside, then find a stairwell and run up and down them for a few minutes. I can guarantee when you get back to your desk your energy will be bursting out of you. The final hour will not drag. It will fly by and you’ll soon be on your way home with the knowledge that you’ve had a fantastic day. 

Well, I hope that helps, Sergio. Thank you for your wonderful question and thank you to all of you who are listening. Remember, if you have a question you would like me to answer, just send me a quick email ( or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes.

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

How To Overcome Procrastination and Get Your Important Work Done

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about procrastination and more importantly, how to over-come it.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 71 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.

Procrastination. We all suffer from it to some degree or another and it can be a huge drag on our overall productivity. In this week’s episode, I go into depth on what causes it and how to fix it. 

And before we get into this week’s question and answer, if you are struggling to get the important things in your life done and find you have no time for the work you have to do, then take a look at my recently updated Your Digital Life 2.0 Online course. 

This course has everything you need to learn how to get yourself better organised and more productive. It shows you how to create the best productivity system for you and will give you the know-how and framework to reduce your stress, overwhelm and put you in control of your time. All the links to the course and more details are in the show notes.

Okay, 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 Annabel. Annabel asks: 

Hi Carl, I really struggle with procrastination. Even when I have a deadline, I still do anything but what I should be doing. Do you have any ideas on how to stop myself? 

Thank you, Annabel, for your question. I think a lot of listeners will also thank you because procrastination affects us all at times. 

Before we go into how to stop procrastinating I think we should try to understand why we procrastinate in the first place. 

Procrastination is usually caused because the task or thing we should be doing is either too big or unclear. What I mean by this is most people write tasks out like “do presentation” and with a task such as creating a presentation, there are multiple parts. There are the slides to create, a story to weave into the presentation, a script—well a script is not a good idea— notes I should say. 

Of course, there’s likely to be a bit of research and quite a lot more. 

So if you have a task that says “do presentation” your mind is going to recoil and say “I’m not doing that, what can I do instead?” And that “instead” is going to be something like checking email, responding to tweets or reading the news. 

However easy you think the presentation is going to be, you need to break it down into clear, concrete steps. Now I don't mean micro breaking it down, what I mean is break it down into manageable chunks. For example, “Create introduction slides” or “Get last year’s sales figures from Simon” these tasks are manageable and could easily be completed in 20 to 30 minutes. 

Other reasons why we procrastinate is because we are not sure what we need to do. I recently was given a writing assignment on a subject I wasn't too familiar with. I found myself postponing starting the task and seeking excuses not to start doing it. As the deadline approached I knew I had to get it started and I had to step back and ask myself why I was procrastinating over it. 

Once I looked again at the title of the article I knew exactly why I wasn't sitting down and starting it—Unfamiliarity with the subject—So I asked the very next question. “What do I need to do to get familiar with the subject?” So I did a 15 minute Google search, found some good articles on the subject and was able to then formulate some ideas on how I could craft that into an article linked to my area of expertise. 

Unblocking the block—in this case, unfamiliarity with the subject—soon got me on track and I was able to write the article. 

If you do find yourself putting off what you should be doing, take a step back and ask yourself why. You will most likely find it caused by a lack of clarity about what needs doing or, as in my case, unfamiliarity with the subject matter. 

And that’s another thing you should be aware of. What are you doing when you find yourself procrastinating? Knowing you are procrastinating is a key step towards stopping yourself from procrastinating. These are the triggers that will help you to avoid them in the future. 

I find I procrastinate when I am tired. If I have a very creative morning, afternoons become an ocean of procrastination for me. Because I know between 2 and 4pm I am not going to be at my creative best, I schedule my exercise and news reading at that time. I am lucky because I can schedule my own work. I don't work in an office environment. However, even if you do work in an office, you still have some flexibility over the work you do and when. If you find you procrastinate during the afternoon slump, then work on something that does not involve a lot of mental energy. Better yet, go for a walk somewhere. 

One of my best strategies for avoiding procrastination is when I feel tired, I will take a 20-minute nap. I’ve found if I try to push through the tiredness I rarely do anything of quality anyway. Instead, by taking a 20-minute nap, when I come back to the work, my energy and focus are restored and I get a lot more quality work done. AND… It gets done faster than if I tried to push through. 

Being aware of your state when you procrastinate is the best way to reduce the amount of procrastination you do. We all procrastinate and sometimes procrastination is your brain telling you it needs some “down-time” to think through a problem or come up with a solution to something you have been thinking about. It’s your sub-conscious part of your brain asking for some extra energy to do the work it is supposed to do. 

Have you ever gone to bed with something on your mind and when you wake up in the morning the solution to whatever was on your mind is the first thing you think about when you wake up? That’s your sub-conscious brain doing it’s job. So you do not want to eradicate procrastination completely. Your sub-conscious brain needs some time to do it’s work too. What we need to do is control the procrastination so we get the work that matters done when it needs to be done without becoming stressed and worried about deadlines. 

How do we do that? 

One thing you can do is keep a note-pad and pen on your desk. Every time you feel the ‘need’ to do something you know you should not be doing, write down what it is you want to do and then return to your work. As I was writing my blog post earlier today, I had an urge to check out the prices of a new keyboard for my old iPad Pro. Instead of breaking off from my writing zone, I just wrote down “iPad Pro keyboard price” and returned to my writing. I never left the screen I was writing in. It took ten seconds to write it down and I was back on to my writing. The urge to find the price of the keyboard disappeared instantly. When I finished writing, I then went over to my web-browser and got the price. It was like a reward for not doing it in the middle of a writing session.

Funnily enough, that thought about the keyboard came to me when I was coming towards the end of the writing task. The thought came to me because my brain was getting tired and it needed a break. Our brains are amazing things, while our brain does not say directly “I need a break” it does so in a more subtle way. So if you do find your mind wandering and you get an urge to do something else instead of what you should be doing, it might just be your brain telling you to get up and take a break. Take that break. You will produce better work if you do and procrastinate less.

Another thing you can do is reduce the amount you have on your daily to-do list. Most people have way too many tasks on their daily to-do list. When you start the day with twenty to thirty tasks on your to-do list you are pushing your brain to say “urgh! I don’t want to do that” and it will go into spasms of procrastination. Realistically you are only going to get ten to fifteen tasks done per day and have more than say 25 tasks will result in you having to reschedule tasks for another day. 

So, get strategic and prioritise. Ask yourself “what ten tasks must be done today?” Then only allow those ten to be on your list for the day. Anything else you would like to do can be placed onto an “if I get time” list. When you see just ten tasks on your list for the day you are much less likely to start procrastinating. You will feel more positive and will have more energy to get started so you can finish those ten tasks as quickly as possible. It’s a simple trick that works and all you need to do is give yourself ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to plan out what ten tasks you want to accomplish tomorrow. 

So there you go, Annabel. I hope these suggestions help you to get a little more focused on your work and reduces the amount of time you procrastinate. Thank you for your question.

If you have a question you would like answering on this show, then please email me at or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll always be very happy to answer your questions.

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