In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting back into the productivity saddle after a crisis or illness.
Hello and welcome to episode 3 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
Before we get into this week’s show, I want to thank you all for listening to this podcast. We have built up quite a following in just 3 weeks. So, thank you, guys. I really appreciate all the support you have shown me. Don’t forget, if you like what you hear in this podcast, please share it with as many people you know.
Oh and one more thing… This week sees the start of the holiday season in many countries. To celebrate the holidays, I have put together a few special online course bundles at fantastic prices. If you want to learn more, head over to my website later this week and you can see what I have on offer.
Okay, let’s get to this weeks question.
This week’s question has been sent in by Leo and his question was:
How do you quickly get back in your "saddle" when your habits and routines fail, like when you have been sick or some urgent incident forces you to be disorganised.
Okay, great question, Leo. I think many of you out there experience this problem from time to time. When so many things happen all at once, your desk looks like it was in the middle of a hurricane with papers everywhere and you cannot see your computer’s desktop wallpaper.
The first thing to recognise is that when these things happen, you have to deal with the issue first. That is your priority. Running around trying to keep everything clean and tidy in the middle of a crisis is the wrong thing to do. Deal with the crisis first. If you are sick, the priority is to get yourself better. You do not need to be worrying about all those unchecked tasks building up. Make sure the people relying on you know your situation and then get yourself fixed. Those are the priorities.
But once the crisis or the sickness is over, you need to take stock. You need to take some time to look at what you have accomplished, collect all the next actions into one place — you may have been scribbling things down on bits of paper or adding them to your notes app when they should be in your todo app — just collect them into your inbox. Then throw away those bit of paper and delete the notes. You want to be cleaning up, not duplicating.
Now, what about all those tasks that you didn’t do because of the crisis. These either need deleting or rescheduling. A lot of my tasks are routine tasks that repeat at set days and times. I don’t have a problem just checking them off even if I haven’t done them. For example, updating my student attendance sheets, I can do those the next day if I haven’t had time to do them today, so for me checking the tasks off today without doing the task and doing it tomorrow instead is no problem. If you don’t like ‘cheating’ your system like that, then leave the task where it is an overdue task and do the task when you are ready.
Once you have your existing task list up to date, now it’s time to hit your inbox. Depending on how long your sickness or crisis was, this could be big or huge. The trick here is to just begin at the top and go through the list asking “what is it”? And “what is the next action?” and process your way down the list. In a way, you are doing a weekly review, just not at your usual weekly review time. Somehow, I find this process a great way to calm down after the craziness of a full-on crisis. There’s something very soothing about it. And there’s something else about doing things this way too, you find that you don’t really have as much to catch up on as you think. Our brains are great at deceiving us into thinking we have a lot more to do than we really do.
Doing an additional weekly review, by the way, is a great way to get back on top of your work and life if you find you’ve had a few exceptionally busy few days. When I have been doing a 2-day workshop, for example, I don’t have time to do my usual regular routine stuff. Once the workshop is over, I will sit down for a quiet hour or so and do a weekly review. It’s a great way to get back in touch with my regular life and brings a sense of calm tranquillity back after a hectic couple of days. It’s also a great time to process my overflowing inbox because I will have captured a lot of ideas for improving the workshop as well as names cards and other stuff.
One thing I would always stress is that no matter how big or bad the crisis or illness is, if you can just maintain your habit of capturing, you will find you are 90% of the way towards maintaining your system. Capturing to me is the habit you should develop as soon as possible when you begin down the road of GTD or any other productivity system. If you’re capturing, no matter what else happens to you, you will always be able to process when things calm down. It doesn’t matter where or how you are capturing all your commitments and todos. Even if it is on the back of a napkin, as long as that napkin gets dumped into your in-basket or you take a photo of it and send it to your todo list manager — that’s all that matters. It’s captured. You can move on and deal with the next problem.
A good idea is to carry a little notebook with you, keep it in your bag, or pocket and when you find your day turns south and situations turn into crises, then you can pull out the notebook and start writing down everything you need to capture. When the crisis is over— and all crises end sometime— you can tear off your notes and put them in your in-basket or send the photo to your todo list manager. Although I am pretty much 100% digital now, I still have a little notebook in my bag… You know… Just in case.
I think there’s also another reason why someone may fall out of the productivity saddle too. That one is you just lose the motivation for staying on top everything, you become lazy. It happens to all of us at some time or another. This is one reason why you should keep your system as simple as possible. In the days when I was experimenting with productivity systems, I found the more complex the system I had, the more likely it was I would fall off and not maintain my system. Once I got my system as simple as it could be, then I found I rarely fell out of the saddle and when I did, it was very easy to get back in. The more complex your system is, the harder it is to maintain, and if you do fall off, it is so much harder to get back on. Let’s be honest, you are going to have days when you are just not in the mood, or something very bad happens to you or your family or friends. Maintaining your ‘perfect’ productivity system will not be a priority in these situations and that is exactly how it should be. Just focus on your priorities in these situations, try to capture everything that is important and deal with them once everything is over.
To sum up then:
When a crisis happens, or you become sick and can’t work for a while, focus on dealing with the crisis or illness. That is and must always be your priority.
During the crisis or illness make sure you are still capturing. It doesn’t take a lot to capture a todo, an idea or a commitment you made. Write it down somewhere that you will find later, once everything calms down and you can return to your normal routine. And crises do end. You need to be ready to get back to your normal routine once it does end.
Once the crisis or illness is over, and everything calms down, do a complete weekly review. I know it might be difficult to find an hour or so to go through your inboxes and projects, but this part is really the key. When you do a full weekly review it will get you back into the saddle very quickly and get you back on your feet and in touch with your world.
Finally, if you do find you regularly fall out of the saddle, you might find it is because your system is way too complicated. Review your system, find where you can simplify it. Really all you need is a place to capture everything, a place to store your to-dos, a separate place to store your notes and support materials and a calendar. Anything else on top of those is probably going to be a level of complexity you don’t need.
Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you found it useful and don’t forget if you have any questions about productivity, GTD, Self-development or planning, then you can ask me via Twitter, Facebook or my website, carlpullein.com.
Thank you for listening and now it just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.