The Working With Podcast | Episode 59 | How To Manage Paper In A Digital World

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to handle a paper-based work environment when you are a digitally minded person.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 59 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question about handling multiple types of inputs. Not just the usual digital inputs such as email, PDF and Word files, but also paper-based applications, memos and even letters. Again, something I think many of you will have to deal with, particularly if you work in a more conservative industry. 

Before we get into the specifics of this question, I would like to point you in the direction of a video I made last month about planning for 2019. We are now just three weeks away from 2019 and I want you all to have the best year you have ever had, not just in terms of completing your projects and goals, but to be able to be better organised and more productive so you can spend more time with the people you really care about doing the things you want to do. I’ve put a link to that video in the show notes and I will be posting a follow-up video this week on how to turn your ideas into actual achievable goals and projects. The best way to make sure you get that video is to subscribe to my channel—which is full of tips, tricks and know-hows—so you never miss a thing. 

Okay, so 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 Tiago. Tiago asks: I really enjoy the beginners guide to creating your own COD System, it was very useful for my productivity, but I work in an environment that I need to process paper documents from clients, colleagues and process many emails every day. I try to have some hours to process my inboxes, digital and physical, but it’s hard to lead with everything. Do you have some tips for this type of work environment?

Thank you, Tiago for your wonderful question. It’s actually a question about something I think we all forget about sometimes and that is how to deal with not just the digital stuff we receive each day, but also the physical stuff that comes across our desks every day. 

You see whether you have read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and applied the principles or you have taken my COD productivity course, both of those resources focus on the digital side and less on the physical side. If you can get a copy of the original Getting Things Done book, that is more focused on the physical stuff because when the book was published in 2001, we were in the middle of the transition from a largely paper-based office environment to a more digital environment. 

Up until last year, I kept a shelve of physical folders next to my desk which contained client contracts, regular mail and my domestic bills I had paid amongst other things. It was a way for me to manage the paper I still received. From January this year, I transitioned to a 100% paperless environment and have found it much less cumbersome. How I handle that is when something physical comes in, whether it is a contract or a bill or something else, I will scan in immediately using my phone and an app called Scanbot. What Scanbot does is send anything I scan to a folder in iCloud where I will then process whatever I received into its correct digital place. Now the problem, of course, is that this creates another inbox that needs processing. As I am not scanning every day it would be very inefficient to check that ‘inbox’ on a daily basis, so after I scan the document I add a task to my to-do list manager’s inbox to tell me to process the folder. 

That worked for me, but it may not work for you. The kind and type of physical documents you receive may be quite varied in their nature so the first thing you will need to do is to review what kind of paper-based documents you receive regularly. When you do this you will find that they will fall into certain categories. For example, if you deal with client contracts, these naturally will fall under the category of contracts and will be associated with a specific client. If your accounts department insists on you providing physical receipts for your expenses report then that is another type of paper document you will need to retain. 

To do this I would recommend you keep a note of what types of paper-documents you receive over a typical week. Then at the end of the week go through your list and see what you have collected. 

Next, go out and buy yourself some folders from your local stationary store. If you really want to, you can also buy yourself a labeller machine too (that’s pure GTD for those of you who have read the book) and label (or write) the type of document you will store in each folder. So you may end up with folders labelled with “receipts”, “New client contracts”, “Invoices to pay”, “Invoices paid” “Applications” etc. The way you label these folders will be based on your review and the types of documents you receive each week. 

Of course, if you have specific client contracts you will probably have a file related to that client already, but at this stage, I am assuming you will need to process the details digitally first before the paper-based contract is moved to its final resting place in the clients or customer’s file. 

Now, in my pre-paperless days, I also had a folder I called “Inbox”. I used this for those random paper documents that did not have a specific place to go but needed some form of attention before being trashed or filed. An example of this would be invitations to an event or payslips for the various academies I worked with. 

Okay, so now what do you do with the paper that comes in. Here, the best way to deal with it is to get yourself two or three in-trays. I recently visited a stationary store and I noticed these are disappearing. A few years ago there was a whole aisle dedicated to inboxes and trays. Now there was a tiny section at the back of the store for them—A worrying development if you ask me—SO if you do not already have a set of these excellent collection tools, go out and buy yourself some. While paper-based stuff is declining, it still exists and so these trays are valuable. I have three metal based in-trays next to my desk and I use them every day. 

The top tray is my inbox. The middle tray is my ‘pending’ or “waiting for” tray—which I must confess gets little input these days as anything I am waiting for is likely to be a digital input.—And my bottom tray is where I keep my journal and notebooks when they are not open on my desk. 

Okay, so now you have everything set up, how do you use this setup on a daily basis?

Okay, so, when a paper-based document comes in you can drop it in your in-tray. Treat this as you would treat your digital inbox. Just drop the document into your tray. Now, here’s the crucial part. If you are going to process the document that day, then there’s nothing else for you to do until you process the document. However, if there is no urgency, the document just needs some action at some point in the near future, add a digital reminder into your digital to-do list. Seriously this is going to save more times than you know. As the paper comes in, stuff you put into your in-tray yesterday or the day before is going to sink to the bottom and can quite easily get missed. Your digital to-do list manager is with you everywhere you go, so you know you will have that reminder there as a trigger to do something with the document. I know some of you will argue that that is duplicating, but adding a digital to-do task has saved me so many times. 

But… As with all inboxes, whether they are digital or physical, they need to be processed regularly. I process all my task related inboxes daily, including my physical inbox, but this is really up to you. My Evernote inbox, for example, gets processed once a week, but I don’t put tasks in there, just notes. 

As an aside, I do have another use for my bottom in-tray. in addition to my journal and notebook, I also keep some cables in there. When I am doing a coaching call, I use my iPad and I keep my iPad’s charging cable in there. Often these calls will be around an hour in length and I don’t want my battery to go flat on me during the call. Before the call, I just pull out the cable and plug in my iPad. The worst thing that could happen is when I am about to start a call, I have to go looking for the charging cable. I can avoid this by having my cable in its rightful place—the bottom tray of my in-trays. 

When you think about it, handling paper-based documents should be a much easier task than handling digital documents. There are hundreds of years of practice and experience to draw on. In a way, I am very lucky to have begun my working life just as we were transitioning away from a paper-based office to a digital one. I was lucky enough to learn how to file manually using those big old-fashioned filing cabinets. A lot of how we manage our digital files these days is based on that tried and tested physical filing system. It worked then, it still works today. 

The difficulty these days is keeping on top of everything that needs doing. But sticking to basic principles of having an inbox to collect everything, spending some time at the end of the day organising everything you collected and spending the better part of your time focused on doing is the only way to manage these various inputs. Working in an environment that has to deal with paper means you need an additional inbox and that means you have an additional inbox to process at the end of the day. 

BUT… What you choose to work on can still be managed digitally. If you have a client’s contract to review and process, then you would add a task into your to-do list manager “Review and process Client A’s contract” and when that task comes due, you would pull the contract from where you filed it and begin the work. The key is to not over complicate things and certainly not have two or three to-do lists. You only need one to-do list and that will tell you what you need to work on next. 

An example is last night I had a call with a client and during that call, I took paper-based notes. After the call, as it was quite late, I tore off the notes sheet with my notes and put it in my inbox. I added a task in my to-do list manager’s inbox to process those notes and at some point today I will do that. Once those notes have been processed into Evernote, that sheet with the notes will be thrown away. I don’t need a duplicate of my notes. Once they are in Evernote they are where they need to be. Of course, I could just scan the sheet and add it to my Evernote, but I like my Evernote notes to be in a digital format so I can copy and paste text if I need to. To process those notes will take around ten to fifteen minutes, but that time is well spent as it will save a lot of time later when I need to find those notes. 

So there you go, Tiago. Hopefully, that has answered your question and given you some food for thought on how best to manage your paper-based stuff. The way to look at it is any paper-based documents that need some work doing, treat is as you would a digital-based document. Add it to your inbox and process it as you would normally do. If necessary, add a task to your to-do list manager and move on to your next piece of work. 

Thank you for the wonderful question, Tiago and thank you all for listening to this podcast. Next week, I will be dealing with how to plan out the new year so you have the best year ever, so if you haven’t created a list of all the things you would like to achieve next year, now’s the time to give some serious thought to that so you are ready to start building your plan for next year. 

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

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 58 | How To Develop Positive Habits

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to Change old habits and develop new ones.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 58 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a great question about habit development and how to use your productivity tools to create new, positive habits and stop old, negative habits. 

But, before we get into this week’s question, please allow me a few seconds to say a big thank you to all of you who participated in my Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale last week. The response was fantastic and I feel so blessed to have such wonderful people supporting me so I can help more people to become better organised and more productive. We know stress is one of the world’s biggest killers these days and by becoming more productive you can reduce the amount of stress you are exposed to and that is why I want to help more people discover the benefits of a more organised and productive life. So thank you. I am looking forward to the new year and helping more and more people. Without out your support, I would not be able to do half of what I do today. 

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 Pippa. Pippa asks, do you have any tips on developing more positive habits? I have always struggled to change my habits and I was wondering if there was a way to help keep myself focused on my habits.

Thank you, Pippa, for your excellent question. 

Recently I have been asked a lot about this. How to develop and stay focused on new habits and I know from my own personal experience this can be a tough thing to do. But, over the years I have discovered a few ways that can help to keep myself focused on new habits until they become automatic and I will share those ways with you here. 

Firstly, let’s look at the problem. Changing habits is difficult because to change a habit we have to move outside of our natural comfort zones. An example of this would be if you decided to start waking up an hour earlier than usual and doing some form of exercise. Now depending on how fit you are when you start this new habit, starting an exercise programme at the best of times can be very challenging. Exercise, particularly in the beginning, can be very painful and there are no immediate noticeable benefits. It’s just a lot of pain, sweat and, the next day, very sore muscles. 

Over time, as you get fitter, it gets easier and the natural benefits of excising regularly begin to show. You feel stronger, have more energy and of course, you begin to look a lot better. But that is not what you get at the beginning. The beginning is usually characterised by pain and muscle soreness, a flushed face and difficulty getting up out of your seat after you have been sat down for a while. That’s not a very good way to keep you inspired to exercise every morning. You have to have almost super-human discipline to keep going in that situation. 

So how do you overcome this?

The biggest mistake I see is people trying to do too much at once. Take the exercise habit, for example. I often see people make the decision to start an exercise programme and on day one they rush out the house at 6AM, and run for three or four miles. Now, if you have not got out running for a long time, the next day when you wake up to repeat the process, your leg muscles are going to be screaming at you to stop. If you tie that in with cold, wet weather outside, it is understandable that your dry, warm bed is going to win that particular battle. 

Instead, it is far better to start slowly and break down the habit you are trying to develop. In the exercise example, there are actually two habits there. Waking up early and exercising. If you try to do both at the same time you are going to make things very difficult for yourself. It is far better to develop one at a time over a period of time. 

As the new year is around the corner, let’s say that from January you decide that you want to wake up early and spend the first hour of the day doing exercise. Now the better way to do this is to decide that January will be when you develop the habit of waking up early. Let’s say you wake up at 7:30am now, struggle to get out of bed and then find yourself rushing to get yourself out the door and to the bus-stop by 8:00am. So, from the 2nd of January—not the first, that’s usually a holiday for most people—you wake up at 6:30am and get yourself out of bed. Go make yourself a cup of your favourite morning drink, or drink some water, and after a few minutes do some light stretching exercises. Nothing too difficult. Spend 20 to 30 minutes doing that and then go take a shower. Do the same the next day and the next. Just focus on getting into the habit of waking up an hour earlier. 

By the end of January, you will find waking up early has become natural. You will feel disappointed if you don’t wake up early. That’s what you want. You want that emotional response when you don’t do it. 

Now, in February you introduce some more strenuous exercise. Again, the advice here is don’t go crazy. If you have been doing some gentle stretching exercises in January, then add some push-ups and non-weights squats. Do two or three sets of these. Try to find 3 exercises you can do as a set and do three sets of three. You could do planks, push-ups and squats as a set and repeat that three times. Those three exercises will exercise almost all the muscle groups in your body. 

Now if you do that Monday, Wednesday and Friday and on Tuesday and Thursday you go our for a power walk, that means you will be exercising five times a week. Do that for a month and by the end of February, you will be feeling fantastic. There will be no more muscle soreness and waking up that hour earlier will just feel right. 

If you tried to do that all in the first week, the chances of you being able to maintain it would be almost zero. Staging your changed habits over a couple of months and you increase the chances of success a hundred times.

Okay, so exercise and waking up earlier is an easy example to give. What about some more subtle changes to your habits. Imagine you find yourself being negative about things and you want to become a more positive person. How would you go about changing that? 

Now, this one is a more behavioural habit and so needs a slightly different approach. Humans are not naturally negative. Being negative is a taught skill ( I say that because there are so many amazingly positive things in this world yet some people seem to have PhDs in finding the negatives in life). Changing the way you look at the world is a lot easier than you may think. 

The way to do this is to make full use of your calendar or to-do list manager. At the top of your to-do list or calendar write down two or three things you will be positive about today. I would write “Be positive” at the top of my to-do list and highlight it or bold it so it stands out. Every time I look at my to-do list I would see those two words. Likewise, if you do this on your calendar, create a new event and in bold capitalised letters write “BE POSITIVE!” What this does is remind you every time you look at your to-do list or calendar (or both) to be positive. 

This is about changing the way you see the world. If it’s raining - look at the rain and say to yourself that the air is being cleaned and nature is getting its drinking water. If it’s snowing, instead of thinking about how difficult it will be to get to work, think about all the children who are going to be so excited about the snow. Imagine how you felt about the snow when you were a child. That will soon put a positive smile on your face. 

Another quick tip about becoming more positive is don’t read the news first thing in the morning. The news is full of negativity because for some reason bad news sells. Stay well away from the news. I use a news reader app called Reeder that only shows me articles from blogs and magazines I choose. So my morning news is full of productivity tips, self-help advice and technology news. I have no idea about Brexit or the latest antics of President Trump. 

What you need to do is to remove the triggers that led to your old habit and replace them with triggers that encourage the new habit. Replace negative news with blog posts about your favourite hobby. Replace negative thoughts by challenging yourself to find the positives—there are always positives. 

Far and away the best way to develop positive habits is to start small. Don’t try and change everything at once. Create a 12-month timeline and map out the habits you want to develop over that twelve month period. Start with the easy ones as this will allow your confidence to grow. As your confidence grows, so too will your self-discipline so when you get to the harder habits, you will have a lot more confidence and a lot more self-discipline. 

One tip that always works for me is to schedule a specific time to do whatever it is you want to do. For me, I exercise between 2 and 2:45pm every day. Most days I will exercise quite hard. But some days I can feel a little soreness and so I will just do gentle stretching and non-weight bearing exercises. That time is scheduled on my calendar five times a week and as the rule goes - “What’s on my calendar gets done” I make sure it happens, no matter what mood I am in. My calendar is sacred territory. If you work a regular 9 til’ 5 office job, then schedule 6pm to 7pm to do whatever new habit you want to develop. It could be spend more time with your kids, write a journal or clean your house. Whatever it is, schedule it and make sure you do it. 

Changing old habits and developing new ones is really all about creating routines. When you turn the new habit into a routine you just do it without thinking. For me, when 2pm arrives, I stop whatever it is I am doing and begin my usual warmup routines. I also change into my exercise gear and just begin. Although I have previously planned what exercise I will do, when 2pm arrives, I just start. There’s no thinking, no opportunity to talk myself out of doing it, it’s 2pm and I start… It’s on my calendar. 

So there you go, Pippa. I hope that has given you a few ideas about starting new habits and I wish you all the best of luck with your new habits. I know it is not easy, but with time and by starting small, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish. 

Thank you all for listening to this episode of the Working With Podcast. If you have a question you would like answering, please send me an email - calr@carlpullein.com or you can 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. 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 57 | How To Stop Procrastinating.

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to stop procrastinating and get the work done.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 57 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, the question is all about procrastination and how to overcome this real productivity conundrum. It affects us all and it can do a lot of damage to our careers, relationships and goals. 

But before we get into this week’s question, I want to tell you all about my fantastic Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale. There are some fantastic offers available for you and I would love you to get yourself a bargain while you can. I have bundles of courses, including the brilliant Pathway To Productivity, AND… I am also offering 12 Months of weekly one on one coaching with me personally at half price. Those places are very limited, so if you want to get yourself in, you need to go to my website right now and book yourself a place and save yourself $600! 

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 Tim. Tim asks, Carl, I really struggle to get things done. Whenever I sit down to do some work I find myself procrastinating by flicking through Instagram or watching your videos on YouTube. Do you have any advice on stopping this? 

Thank you, Tim, Not sure I want to stop you watching my videos though! Anyway, to answer your question this is something I know many people have difficulties with. I too, from time to time, find myself procrastinating and it can really hinder the work I want to do for the day. The good news is there are a few strategies you can use to stop you from flicking through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. 

The first one is to have a plan for the day. We often find ourselves procrastinating when we have unclear plans for the day. If you turn up to work with no plan you will spend the first part of the day thinking about what to do and that is when social media and unimportant work shouts the loudest. It’s human nature to turn away from the hardest work and move towards the easier work. If you have no plan, the unimportant will be shouting at you and you will not do the important. This is one of the many reasons why I recommend you do the Golden Ten at the end of the day and not in the morning. When you wake up in the morning with a clear idea of what you want to accomplish that day you are much more likely to get it done. 

And that leads me on to the second tip. Don’t set yourself too much to do. Another reason why we get drawn to procrastination is because when we look at our to-do list for the day it is too long. It becomes overwhelming and overwhelm often leads to procrastination. I have been recommending that you do not have more than ten things on your daily to-do list each day for a long time. Now that might not seem very much, but every day you are going to have crises, demands from bosses and customers and you are going to have to deal with them. If you only have ten or fewer items on your to-do list you will have time to deal with the crises as well as get your planned work done. That creates a circle of success. The more days you complete your planned tasks, the more focused you will become on completing those tasks. It’s a case of you not wanting to break the chain and you become determined to get your work done. 

How you write out your tasks is also a way to prevent procrastination. If you write tasks out that are unclear, such as, “Shopping”, “dog food” or “Wife’s birthday”, you will procrastinate. Sometimes you will remember what it was you meant when you wrote that task, other times you will not. If the task is something like “write report” that will guarantee you will procrastinate because although it is just two words, the work involved is unclear and you will resist. Far better to write tasks such as “Buy dog food for Barney” or “research gift ideas for wife’s birthday” for the report break it down. You could create three of four tasks such as: 

  • Write introduction to report

  • Prepare charts for report

  • Ask Jane for report template 

These tasks are easy, clear and manageable. You are much more likely to get them done rather than waste time thinking about what to do next. 

Another way to help stop you from procrastinating is to make good use of labels or contexts in Getting Things Done terminology. What this means is you label each task according to the tool, place or person required to do the task. For example, if you need to be at your computer to do a task, you would label it @computer. Likewise, if you need to be with your colleague to find something out, then you would label the task @colleague’s name. Shopping tasks can be labelled @supermarket and so on. This way, when you find yourself in front of your computer you pull up the list of tasks you need your computer for and get started. Now of course if you are using my Golden Ten system you would move on to your labels AFTER you have completed your ten tasks for the day. 

Another trick I’ve used in the past that works well is to schedule breaks between the work I am doing. For example, I know in a morning I am good for around two hours. So, every two hours I will get up and walk around. Refill my water bottle or check my email. I limit these break times to ten minutes and if you are a serial procrastinator I would suggest you set yourself a ten-minute alarm. You can check your email from your phone, so you can walk around and check email via your phone. If you want to scroll through your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed during these times then do so. It’s a break remember. BUT… After ten minutes get back to work. In the afternoons, I find my attention span reduces so I take breaks every hour or so. This really works, particularly if you are following your plan for the day. When you have a plan you know exactly what you will get to work on once your break is over. 

Having all your information organised is another way to avoid procrastination. When the information you need to do your work is scattered all over the place you go in search of it. This will take you down avenues you do not want to go down looking for files. I group reference materials and files in project-specific folders (or notebooks in Evernote) I also copy and paste website links into the project note for the project in Evernote so I don’t have to open up my web browser blind. All I need to do is click on a saved link and it will take me to the page I need to reference. Not only does this save a lot of time it also keeps me focused on the task at hand. 

Turn off your notifications and silence your email when you are doing your important work. This one is a biggie. If you are working on a report, presentation or design and you keep getting pop-ups telling you-you have new email, or a new Twist or Slack message you are going to be tempted to look at it. STOP! No, No No! - This is going to cause you a lot of pain AND you WILL procrastinate. Turn them off and focus on the work. You can check your messages and emails between your work sessions. Seriously, no one is ever going to get upset with you if you don’t reply for an hour. If something was very urgent, they would call you. So there’s no excuse at all not to turn off your notifications. Do it… Just do it. No excuses. 

There’s a couple of other ways to stop procrastinating. The first is to gamify your work. Give yourself a reward for focusing on your work for an hour (or ninety minutes if you prefer) Allow yourself ten minutes on Instagram if you complete a piece of work or spend two hours on focused work. Gamification is fun and you not only get to check your social media feeds you also get a lot of work done. After all, work doesn’t have to bring and serious all the time. 

Finally, if you are in the habit of checking shopping sites randomly while you are working then set up your to-do list manager to collect from a keyboard shortcut. Recently I have been redesigning my home office and I have been looking at office chairs, hard drive storage solutions and plants for my desk. Often as I am writing or planning I get an idea to check Ikea or a furniture store’s site. To avoid me going off on a shopping expedition, I will use my quick capture keyboard shortcut to Todoist to collect what it is I want to look at and carry on my work. I write and plan in full-screen mode on my computer, so I never leave the screen I am working in. It’s just SHIFT+CMD+A and I type “look up office chairs at Ikea” and hit return. Done. My thought was captured and I can carry on planning or writing. I can then look up whatever it is I wanted to look up when I take my next break. 

Well, I hope that has answered your question, Tim and I hope it will help you to overcome your procrastination. 

I know procrastination is a problem for many people, but if you adopt these strategies you will soon find yourself getting more important work done and procrastinating less. Be clear about what you want to get done, schedule regular breaks and turn off your notifications when you are doing focused work. These three strategies alone will help you. But the biggest one of all is to discipline yourself. Procrastination is really a sign you have a lack of discipline. Work on your discipline, and to do that start small, and you will go a very long way to stopping procrastination from rearing its ugly head. 

Good luck and thank you, Tim, for your excellent question. And thank you all for listening 

Don’t forget to check out my Holiday season offers, I am sure there will be something there for you all. 

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

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 56 | How To Stay Focused On The Important Things In Your Life.

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to stay focused on the important things.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 56 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question about focus and how to stay focused on the important things without allowing yourself to be distracted by all the unimportant things that go on around us every day. 

Before we dive in to this week’s question, though, I just like to tell you I have been preparing a number of fantastic offers for this coming weekend’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The first of which will be an exclusive “secret sale” launching on Thursday for all of you who are enrolled in my Learning Centre. If you are not already enrolled, then get yourself enrolled in my FREE Beginners Guide to Creating Your Own COD system so you can be involved in this very special secret sale. 

Okay, on to this week’s question and that means handing you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Amanda. Amanda asks: Carl, how do you stay focused on your goals and plans on a daily basis. I really struggle with this. 

Thank you Amanda for your question. I think this is another question many of you will also be wondering about. 

Well, the first thing is you need to have identified what exactly is important to you. If you do not know what is important you will always be feeling you are not moving forward with your life. You will feel you are just going through the motions and not getting anything important done. Establishing what is important to you, and what is not, is the first step. Of course it is not an easy step. There is so much going on in our lives and there is so much going on at work that it is very hard to know what is important and what is not. One thing I can tell you is that other people’s urgencies are definitely not your important tasks. Important tasks for you need to come from you. Not your boss, your family or your friends. They must come from you. 

One way to discover what is important to you is to ask a very simple question and spend a few minutes thinking about your answer. That question is:

If I had complete control over what I will do tomorrow, what would I do?  

Now there are two different times you should ask this question. When you are at work and when you are at home. Ask this question before you finish at workplace everyday and write out what you would do, and again, ask this question on a Friday night and write down you answer. 

The answers you come up with may not necessarily be what you can work on, but somewhere in the list of things you write down you will see a theme developing. That theme is where you should be spending your time. 

Let me give you an example. Let’s say on a Sunday night you sit down and ask the question. You write down things like:

  • Finish presentation for Thursday’s symposium

  • Prepare for Wednesday’s conference call

  • Ask HR about how many holiday days I have left this year

Once you have a list like this, get them into your to-do list manager and flag them. These are your priorities for tomorrow. 

Now if your list contains more than three or four things, you are going to have to slim down the list. This is where you will have to become a bit ruthless. This is quite hard to do at first, but our brains have a very bad habit of convincing us we can do more than we can in any period of twenty-four hours. And we also have to accept there is going to be some form of a crisis that will require our attention. We do not work in a bubble. 

If you want to get really good at this you should go into full ruthless mode and restrict these things to just two. When you do that, you start making sure that the two things you choose as your objectives are truly important to you. And being only two important things you are much more likely to get them done. 

Doing this process on a Friday evening also helps you to not waste your weekends too. Of course yo do not want to be writing down things related to your work because we all need a break from that. So, you want to looking at doing things with your family, your friends or perhaps some home improvements or even more important something related to your personal improvement. One thing that is always on my weekend list is to watch a TED talk or go through some Robin Sharma, Mel Robbins or Brian Tracy videos. I usually spend around an hour each weekend doing this and find in incredibly inspiring and educational and I feel no matter what I have done—or not done—that day, I have done something important. 

If you are not taking some time each day to think about what you want to do, and then writing them down and making them priorities, you are going end up doing what someone else wants you to do and that usually does not end well for you. You feel exhausted and worn out and yet you have done nothing to improve your life or make progress on your work. You will have it all to do again tomorrow. It becomes a never-ending cycle and it’s a cycle you need to get off as quickly as possible. 

Some areas you should be prioritising and focusing on every day are:

  • Your own self-development

  • Your health and fitness

  • Your own work - work you are responsible for

  • Your friends and family

  • Planning and preparation for upcoming projects

  • Completing your projects - because I know a lot of people who are fantastic at planning their projects and creating beautiful to-do lists in their productivity tools and never actually get round to doing the work that matters. 

Distractions are an inevitability, you are not going to be able to completely remove them from your life. When we are tired we find our Facebook or Instagram feed irresistible and our boss, partner or co-worker can have very loud voices. All these distractions happen to everyone. We are not always wide awake, we don’t all have wonderfully quiet co-workers and understanding partners. We have to deal with them. You need to create systems and processes so you can focus on what is important to you so that these get done every day. You have to be disciplined. And I’m afraid there is no getting around that. 

One final thing I should mention is I have what like to call my “anchor”. My anchor is a place where I can go to refocus. Now, when I say “anchor”, I don’t mean a physical place, what I mean is a place where you have your goals and priorities written down. This could be a note in your notes app, or a page in your journal. It really doesn’t matter where you have this list or note. What matters is that it is accessible to you every day. We cannot control what happens to us or around us, but we can control our response to what happens. Our days can take some very unexpected turns. A colleague does not come in to work one day and you start getting calls from their customers asking about things you have no idea about. Or your boss dumps a huge project on your desk and asks you to complete by the end of tomorrow. When these things happen you have no choice but to deal with them. 

This is where your anchor comes in to play. You can deal with the immediate crisis and then when you get a few moments you can go to your anchor, read through it and remind yourself of your priorities and your objectives. It can bring you peace and calm when everything around you is in chaos. 

My anchor is my journal. It is always on my desk and is open at today’s page. I’ve talked about my journal in a previous episode, but having my journal next to me whenever I am working is a fantastic way to give me peace of mind and to make sure I am focused on the work that matters. At anytime I feel I am being dragged off to do work I am not happy about doing, I can take a couple of minutes and review my goals, or review my objectives for the day and this can give me the necessary boost to refocus on what’s important and to decide when or even if I want to do a piece of work. 

If you are interested in learning more about my anchor, I wrote a blog post about it last week and I also talked about it in last week’s episode of the Productivity Mastery series. 

So there you go, Amanda. Hopefully that has given you some tips and ideas about what you can do you get yourself focused on what is important to you. Remember, your priorities should always be your priorities and not the priorities of someone else. Create an anchor for yourself so you can be reminded of what is important to you whenever you feel chaos is around you. 

Thank you for your question, Amanda and thank you all for listening to this episode. If you have a question you would like answering, please get in touch either by email or Dming me on Twitter or Facebook. All the details are in the show notes. 

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

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 55 | Planning 2019 With Kevin Blackburn [Pt 2]

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In this second part of my chat with Kev Blackburn of Life Success Engineer, we continue discussing goal planning and 2019.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Hello and welcome to episode 55 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this second part of my special goal planning and 2019 episode, Kev Blackburn, THE Life Success Engineer and I discuss a few goal planning tips and tricks that will help you make 2019 your best year yet. 

So, sit back, enjoy, be inspired and we continue where we left off. 

 



The Working With... Podcast | Episode 54 | Planning 2019 With Kevin Blackburn [Pt 1]

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In this week’s episode, I chat with Kev Blackburn of Life Success Engineer about goal planning and making 2019 your best year yet.


You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Hello and welcome to episode 54 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this first part of a very special goal planning and 2019 episode, Kev Blackburn, THE Life Success Engineer and I discuss how we plan the new year, what tools we use and why this time of the year is one of the most exciting times for us. 

So, sit back, enjoy, be inspired.

Part two of this talk will be posted on Friday so, listening out the that episode. 





The Working With… Podcast | Episode 53 | How I Plan The New Year

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how I plan my new year goals.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 53 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s episode, I finally answer a question I received during the summer, but I thought it would be better to answer the question now as the year draws to a close. And that is how do I plan my year. I should also point out that I will be doing another episode on this in the coming weeks with my good friend and super amazing positive guy, Kevin Blackburn, so keep your eyes (or ears) open for that episode, I know it’s going to be a very special episode.

And if you really want to learn how to set and achieve your goals I have a couple of courses on my Learning Centre that will not only show you how to create achievable goals but also take you through the steps on discovering what you really want to achieve in life. I’ve linked to both courses in the show notes and I would highly recommend you have a look at them. Those courses could really change your life. 

Okay, let’s get on with this week’s show 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 Michael. Michael asks, Carl could you tell us how you go about setting goals. I know you’ve written a lot about it, but hearing it in your own words would be very helpful. 

Okay, Michael, you asked for it so here it is. 

I begin my planning season around the middle of October when I create a note in my Evernote with 6 headings. These headings are:

  1. Ideas - this where I dump anything that comes into my mind

  2. What would I like to change about myself? - This question allows me to think about my character, habits and interactions and see if there is anything I am not happy about. If I find anything I will add it here. 

  3. What would I like to change about my lifestyle? - This question is all about the way I live. Am I active enough? is there anything about my home I would like to change? Anything like that.

  4. What would I like to change about the way I work? This question obviously is about my work. Is there anything about my work routines I would like to change. This year, for example, I focused more on making sure I did any creative work in the mornings and did admin and editing work in the evenings. 

  5. What can I do to challenge myself? Challenging myself helps to stop me from stagnating. I like to have at least one thing each year that is going to be incredibly difficult. This always gives me a huge buzz because often the challenge seems impossible at first. 

  6. Goals - Finally, I have a place to add in the goals I want to achieve next year. These can come from anything I have written to the questions I have in the list and it’s a good way to help me build the final list of goals for the year as I am developing my ideas. 

I’ve put a link in the show notes so you can download this worksheet and use it for yourself. 

So how do I take all these answers and turn them into goals for the following year? Well, the first step is to empty my head of ideas and I have found over the years that trying to write a full list in one sitting is pretty much impossible. Instead, I treat most of October and all of November as an open planning session. By that I mean this note in Evernote is with me everywhere I go, so wherever I am I can add to the list anytime. And ideas can pop up at any time. Often I can be on the subway minding my own business and something I see or hear will spark an idea and I will immediately collect it on my phone. If I have time I will put it under the right question, if not, I just add it to the bottom of the list and move it to the right place later. 

I’ve found if I allow myself 4 to 6 weeks of this I will have a wonderfully long list of ideas. The “collection” phase of my planning stops on the 1st of December. By then I know I will have collected everything I would like to achieve. 

Now, there is one final step in this process I do. On the first of December, I will take a look at last years list—and this is one of the many reasons why it’s a good idea to stick with one app for each area of your productivity system. Because I have been using Evernote for over nine years now, I know exactly where last year’s note is and can pull it up with a very simple search. Switching notes apps all the time means there’s a good chance you will lose stuff like this in the switchover—What I am looking for are the ideas I had last year that I decided at the time was not the right time to do. Often I find there are one or two items on that list that will I transfer over to this year’s list. 

Now, the 1 December is the cut off time. I will not be adding anything else to the list. What I have on the list now is everything. So, the next step is to slim the list down to two things for each question and to have five goals for the year. 

I will go through each part of the list and use Evernote’s highlighting tool to highlight three things from each question. Then every day for that two weeks I will spend a few minutes looking at the list and checking that I am still happy with my selection. I find almost every day I will change something. Often I will change the highlight to another item and then change it back a few days later. It’s all good fun, but by doing this you will have evaluated everything thoroughly and when the 15th of December comes around that is your final selection. 

Why two things and 5 goals? Well, if you try and do everything you will fail at most things. Experience has taught me that if I am focused on only a few things there is a much better chance of accomplishing those few things. It also means that the things I do choose to focus on next year will be things that are really important to me. Forcing myself to prioritise this way means my choices are important and the desire to accomplish them will be very strong. 

Why only 5 goals? Again this is so I am not trying to do too much. As the year goes, other things will come up, there could be family emergencies, your employment situation may suddenly change in a way you did not anticipate. All sorts of things could happen. So a limited number of goals allows me to stay focused on what is truly important to me. 

Okay, so now it’s the 15th December and I have my final selection, what happens next? Well, now it’s time to create the necessary action steps and timelines for these changes and goals to happen. Let me give you an example from this year:

On my lifestyle changes list, I had the goal of beginning Robin Sharma’s 5 am Club. This is where you wake up at 5 am, do 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of planning and 20 minutes studying. Now, I prefer to exercise in the afternoon as it breaks up my day nicely, and I do my planning in the evening before I go to bed. That works for me and I didn’t want to change it. However, I also had on my goals list to learn Korean to fluency and I saw the chance to merge the two goals together. So, I developed a plan to wake up at 5 am and study Korean for an hour. 

For timing, I decided the best time to do this was when my wife went off to China for a few months to study. This meant I did not have to worry about waking her up and with the change in my home life, it would be a good time to change my routine. So, my wife left for China on a Friday in early June and the following Monday I began my 5 am club. It was tough for the first few days, but by the end of the week I was getting into it and after a month it was easy. 

Next up on my list of things to do was begin meditation. The question here for me was at what time of the day would I do it. I decided the best time would be early morning, so in September, I added 15 minutes meditation to my 5 AM Club routine. So, now I study for 45 minutes and finish off with 15 minutes of meditation. And I should say, I really look forward to my 5 AM starts now. 

I knew at the beginning of the year I needed to first get into the routine of waking up early and studying. So I gave myself 3 months to get into that habit before starting the meditation habit. There was no rush and this slow development has meant that as I acquire a new habit I can then move on to developing that habit into what the final goal was to be. Wake up at 5 AM study and meditate for an hour. Now we are into November I can confidently say I have acquired both habits and it has become one of the highlights of my day!

So there you have it, the way I plan the year. It’s a fun way to do it, it allows you plenty of time to really evaluate what you want to accomplish and more importantly anticipate difficulties so you can develop strategies for overcoming those difficulties when they do happen. 

It may seem like a lot of work, but the whole process is done in a relaxed fun way. It should not feel like a burden you and there will be days when you don’t think of anything just like there will be days when your brain goes into overdrive and you add a tonne of stuff to your list. Just enjoy the process. The real hard work begins after the 15th December when you start developing your action steps and timelines. 

The key is to remember that 2019 is 12 months, not 12 days. So spread out your goals and tasks. Use the full year to have something new to start every two or three months. You’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of the experience and you will enhance your chances of succeeding at achieving your goals. 

Don’t forget to download my FREE Annual Planning worksheet so you can start this process and then spend the rest of November gathering all your ideas. Have fun, make sure you are challenged and more importantly look at 2019 as an opportunity to really achieve something special. 

Good luck and thank you so much for listening to this episode. Thank you to you, Michael for your wonderful question and it just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 52 | How To Take Control Of Your Work Scope

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to make sure you work on the things that matter.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 52 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s episode we will be discussing what matters most and to make sure you are staying focused on those things and not getting caught on a conveyor belt of meaningless tasks that take you nowhere. 

But before we dive into this week’s question, I’d like to point you all to a video I did on my YouTube channel about starting your 2019 plan. In that video I take you through the annual planning process I go through each year and it always starts in October. So, now’s a great time to watch that video and to download my annual planning sheet to help you get the most out of 2019. I’ve put a link in the show notes for you. 

Okay, so let’s get to this week’s 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 Patricia. Patricia asks “I work for an import/export company and every day the workload is huge. I never have time to do work that I want to do because I always find myself having to deal with other people’s emergencies. Do you have any tips that will help me to do more of my own work and less of other people’s?

Excellent question, Patricia and another question I think many people have. How do you focus on your own work and priorities when customers, colleagues and bosses want you to work their priorities? 

And really that’s the problem here. All that work we get dumped with is often work for other people and in many ways, the simple solution is to set some boundaries to prevent it from happening. Of course, simple solutions are not always easy solutions. So let’s see what can be done.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. When we start a new job or we gain a new client we are all too eager to please, so we say yes to everything. The problem with that is once you start saying yes to doing ‘extra’ work that ‘extra’ work becomes the norm and soon your colleagues, boss and customers just expect you to do it. In essence, that extra work has now become your regular work. We can blame other people, but the reality is we accepted that work before and now it going to be much harder to say no. 

The way I have handled this in the past is to give the person asking me to do the extra work a timeline. What I mean by this is I will accept the work, but I will also tell the person asking when I will do it. So if a colleague asks me to help them prepare a presentation for them, I will enthusiastically accept with something like “sure! I’ll be happy to help. What would you like me to do?” They will then say something like, “well, you are so good at designing slides I wonder if you would improve the design of the presentation I have to do later this week?” To which you reply “okay, I can do it for you, but I’m a bit busy at the moment. Could I send it to you on Friday?”They are then going to tell you that’s too late. Now you can say “Oh, sorry I don’t think I will be able to do any sooner. I have a lot of work to get finished first”

Now your colleague is going to walk away and ask someone else to do their work for them. What you are doing here is showing you are willing to help, but at the same time making it clear your work takes priority. You colleague will get the message. 

Bosses are a bit more difficult because they have seniority. But the same strategy can be used. If a boss insists, what you can do is ask them which work can be delayed so you can work on their slides. This has two effects, it causes the boss the stop and thinks about what they are asking you to do (work outside your scope) and now if the boss insists they will have to reprioritise your work, this giving you extended deadlines on your own work. Either that or, like you colleague they will do their own work themselves. 

Handling customers is the most difficult, but here I have found that what we tell a customer at the beginning is very important. If a customer begins calling you after your working hours for example, no matter how tempting it may be to answer your phone or reply to their email late at night this is something you must not do… Ever! When you answer your phone, reply to a text message or email after your working hours you have told your customer you are willing to work extra hours for free for them and they will take full advantage of that. The best way to handle this is to call them back at 7 AM or send your reply at 6AM—I often use my email scheduling feature and reply to the email before I go to bed and then schedule it to go out at 6:10 am. This tells your customer you are diligent, but it also tells them, you will not be replying to their email late at night. 

I’ve found sending my replies very early in the morning sends a very powerful message. I can promise you they will not be expecting you to reply after hours again AND… They will not be calling you late at night because they don't want to be woken up at 7AM the next day. 

It’s really all about setting boundaries and expectations. If you make yourself available at all times, then your colleagues, boss and customers are going to expect that always. Not a good place to be in if you want to make time to prioritise your own work. 

Now how to manage an overwhelming workload. Here you are going to have again set yourself some boundaries. The first I would suggest you do is to learn when you in your peak working state. Everyone will be different here. For some of you, early morning will be when you can focus deeply on your work and get a lot done, others of you may find the afternoons are better. 

I always believed I was a night owl and so I used to do my focused work late afternoon or early evenings. But after I took some time to experiment doing my work at different times of the day I discovered I worked in a much better mental state between 6AM and 9AM. So now that is the time I turn off all my devices except for the ones I am using to do my work and I get on with my work. 

Now it is important to plan what you will work on the day before if you do not plan what you will work on you will find you spend the first 30 mins or so trying decide what to work on. That’s not a good way to start. Before you finish for the day, make a decision on what work is your priority and needs pushing forward and write that down at the top of your to-do list for the next day. That way when you start your focused work time, you can get straight into it. 

Its also important you put your phone, tablets and computers into a “do not disturb” mode for this period of time. Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen… I promise you. I’m not sure if this is possible with Android devices, but on iPhones when you turn on do not disturb, you can allow those people on your favourites list to get through. I do use this function, but the only people on my favourites list are my wife and mother. If anything bad was happening, my wife and mother would be the first to tell me. 

For me, I can do 3 hours of focused work before my brain is tired and I need a break. During that break, I will get up and move, but afterwards, I will do things like check email, basic admin tasks and other less mental tasks. 

The key to all of this is to decide the day before what it is you want to get done the next day. If you don’t do that you will get caught up in the day’s crises. But, and this is a big but, do not be tempted to schedule too much. You are always going to get distracted and some those daily crises will involve you. If you try and plan out eight hours of priority work in one day you are never going to get it all done. There’s no flexibility. You should be aiming for two to three hours of focused work and make sure you are not disturbed during the time you have allocated to do that work. 

Talking to your boss about your new focused time period will also help. When you explain to your boss you want to get more quality work done and you need two to three hours a day where you can work undisturbed, your boss will understand and be sympathetic. I’ve found that once you explain why you want this undisturbed time and you show your boss the amount of work you are getting done and the higher quality, your boss will very quickly give you more freedom to do more focused work. 

I know it’s hard to say “no” to colleagues, customers and your boss. But you are not really saying “no”. You are still doing your work, but you are doing your work on your terms and on your timeline. These boundaries are important if you want to have a better working experience and want to feel less stressed and overwhelmed. 

The bottom line is, nothing will change unless you change. And that means you need to take control of your time and your priorities. If you allow other people to control your time and your priorities you are always going to feel overwhelmed and stressed. 

So, Patricia, start be setting some boundaries and make sure you are very clear about what you want to get accomplished tomorrow. Find out when you are in your peak working state and schedule some focused time to work on YOUR priorities during that period. By just working on those things, you will very quickly find you feel less stressed and overwhelmed. 

Thank you for your question, Patricia and thank you to you all for listening to the Working With… Podcast. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like me to answer, just email me carl@carlpulein.com or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

The Working With Podcast | Episode 51 | How I Use And What I Write In My Journal

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about what I put in my journal.


You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 51 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 received a question about what I write in my journal. Now, my journal is something I really couldn’t live without and it is not digital! My journal is a paper-based journal and I absolutely love it because it gives me time away from a screen to write down things that are important to me. But we’ll get into that in just a moment. 

Before that, I just want to remind you all of my latest online course—From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 days!—a course created to help you to develop the skills and habits needed to become a master of productivity so you can spend more time doing the things you want to do with the people you want to spend more time with. I would love you to join me in in this course — it’s a course that will change your life and help you to be in the moment and not stressed about whatever might be going on in your work. All the details and links are in the show the notes. 

Okay, onto this week’s question so that means 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 Scott. Scott asks: In one of your videos you mentioned your journal. It looked like a handwritten notebook, and you said you write something in there every day. You also said it has become very important to you. Would you share the kind of things you write there, and why you've found it to be a benefit to you?

Scott, you are correct, I do use a handwritten journal and I do write in it every day. 

First things first, I use a Galaxy Leather large Desk Journal (I’ll put a link in the show notes for you all) which is a gorgeous leather bound lined journal that costs around $25.00. The paper works very well with my fountain pens, although it is not really designed for fountain pens. 

So, what do I write in there? 

When I finish my Golden Ten in the evening, I sit down with my journal and I set up my page for the next day. I begin at the top and write down four headings. The first is “Today’s Objectives”. Underneath that, I write the two things I want to accomplish tomorrow. Now, these could be anything from doing a minimum of 30 mins exercise, to writing my blog post. Whatever I want to accomplish, I will write it there. For those of you who follow my Todoist videos on YouTube, these are the same objectives I have there too. Yes, I know there’s duplication, but my journal stays on my desk in my home office, Todoist goes with me everywhere I go. 

Next comes “Today’s Focus” and underneath that, I write the role I want to focus on for the day. This might be teaching, or content production or health and fitness or anything like that. This is where I can write down exactly what role I want to focus on. For example, I wrote in today’s focus “I teach my students in a way that motivates and inspires, educates and entertains so that my students will improve their communication skills and improve not just their professional lives but their personal lives too.” 

Writing a short affirmation like this focuses my mind the next morning when I read through what wrote the evening before. It motivates me and sets me up for staying focused on what’s important. 

Underneath my Today’s Focus, I write one or two things I am grateful for. Again, this helps to put my mind in a positive frame when I start the day. It’s a great way to start the day and leaves me feeling energised and positive. 

Finally, underneath those, I have a title “what did I do today” and this is where I will write out the things I did as I do them. So, at the time of recording this podcast it is still quite early in the day and I have written “50 minutes Korean study” and “15 minutes meditation” — recording this podcast is the next item on my to-do list so once I have recorded this episode, I will write in “recorded next week’s podcast”. I do this because it allows me to analyse my week and see how productive I have been. 

Now, other things I keep in my journal are notes I capture while watching videos on YouTube. If I have time at the end of the day I will watch a Brian Tracy, Robin Sharma, Mel Robbins or Tony Robbins seminar on YouTube. While watching these I collect notes and quotes straight into my journal. This helps to make my journals valuable sources of information. I watch other videos too of course. TED talks, and videos on Daoism or Buddhism anything like that. From these, I collect notes and quotes too. 

As you can imagine, over time my journals are filling up with some amazing information and there’s nothing better than to read through my old journals on a lazy Sunday afternoon relearning forgotten notes and reminiscing some amazing events I have been to. 

Another thing I keep in my journal are my goals for the year. Now I go through about three or four journals a year, so that gives me an opportunity to rewrite my goals for the year three or four times. It’s a great way to remind myself and to refocus myself on what’s important for the year. I also have my life’s mission statement written in the front and again I get to rewrite that three to four times a year. It’s a fantastic way to reaffirm myself that I am on the right path and moving in the right direction. 

I should mention I also keep tickets and wristbands I have collected from the various music festivals I attend each year. A few weeks ago I went to Above And Beyond’s Group Therapy 300 concert in Hong Kong—it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life and my wristband and train tickets to the event are proudly glued into my journal on the day I attended. I know as the years go by and I look through that journal that page alone will bring back some amazing memories. 

So why do I handwrite a journal rather use a digital journal such as Day One or Evernote? The truth is last year I did experiment keeping my journal in Evernote. There are some advantages to a digital journal such as being able to put in your digital photos, auto collect weather info and as your journal is on all your devices you can capture thoughts and moments wherever you are. But for me, taking some deliberate time away from a screen and going old-school with my favourite fountain pen and a gorgeous paper-based journal is a special moment in itself. My digital journal experiment never did create special moments like that. It began to feel like a burden rather than something I looked forward to doing at the end of the day. That’s why I went back to my old-school journal. 

To answer your second question, Scott, Journaling for me is a special moment. It allows me to slow down, take a few moments at the end of the day to reflect and to think about what I want to accomplish tomorrow in a relaxed state. I can empty my mind of thoughts, and feelings in a way I have never been able to do digitally. I suppose digital devices feel cold, business-like. Handwriting thoughts, goals and mission statements feels more real, more human and for some reaso,n I find it reinforces my motivation better than a keyboard and a screen does. 

And of course, over time you are collecting something physical that can be passed down to your children and grandchildren in future years. That’s something digital journals may not be able to do as file formats could change and the humble text file today could very easily become as obsolete as the VHS video or CD ROM. And that would be a sad loss of memories and experiences. 

Journalling has become a big part of my life. My journal sits, open on my desk as I write, plan and record. It’s a constant companion full of my memories, feelings and experiences and that feels not only comforting, but also reassuring that my life is being documented and even if no one in the future is interested in my life, I will have a record of how I lived my life, the goals I achieved and failed at, and it will be an interesting read for myself as I travel further along life’s path. I would recommend it to all of you. 

Life is short and you have no idea where your life path will take you. Some of you will become hugely successful, many of you won’t. But all you will live wonderfully interesting lives and it would be a shame if you don’t capture those special moments in a way that will live on long after you have passed. So start a journal today. Go out and buy yourself as beautiful notebook as you can afford and start writing. Write your goals for the year, your life’s mission statement and the things you have done during the day. Writing down the things you are grateful for is also a great way to fuel your happiness. This is something you will never ever regret. 

Well, thank you for listening to this episode. Thank you also to you, Scott for the fabulous question and it just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

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

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

You can also listen on:

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Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also listen on:

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Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do you do? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own Productivity System

Time And Life Mastery 2018 Edition

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Doist homepage

Todoist

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

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

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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



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

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




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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



SCRIPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


LINKS:

Life Success Engineer:

Website

YouTube Channel

Podcast

 

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

 Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own Productivity System

Time And Life Mastery 2018 Edition

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that has helped, Denrael. 

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

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