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


Podcast 77

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

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 76 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


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 ( 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.