How To Turn Your Ideas Into Achievable Projects

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Podcast 81

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

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 81 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Daniel, thank you for your question. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Use Your Calendar Properly

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Podcast 80

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

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 80 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s essentially how everything should work. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Stop Feeling You Have To Do More.

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

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 79 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Checklists Should Form The Core Of Your Productivity

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Podcast 78

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

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 78 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, in a slight change to the usual format I want to give you some tips on maintaining your focus on what is important to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have I done my morning rituals?

Are all teaching materials downloaded onto my iPad?

Have I planned my exercise for today?

Have I given Barney his medicine?

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

For my evening checklist I have the following:

Is my phone fully charged?

Does my iPad need charging?

Do I need to take my laptop with me tomorrow? 

Is there anything else I will need with me tomorrow? 

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

Have I completed all my admin for the day?

Is all feedback written up and sent?

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

Have I given Barney his evening medicine?

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

Have I written my journal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Start Achieving Your Goals

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 77 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a wonderful question about really getting clear about your goals so the next steps become obvious.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Stephen, for your question. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and thank you.

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

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

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


Podcast 77

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Get Started on Your Productivity Journey

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Podcast 76

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

You can also listen on:

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

This week I have an excellent question about actually getting started once you have a system in place. I know I produce a lot of content that concerns setting up a system, but there’s not a great deal of content out there about actually getting started once you have a system in place. So I will change that this week. 

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

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

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

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

Hi Frank, thank you for your fantastic question. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Podcast 74

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 74 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a wonderful question about cleaning up an out-of-control to-do list and how to make it more inspiring—something I don’t think we think very much about when we create our to-do lists. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Organise My Digital Files

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Podcast 73

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 73 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s question comes from Emile, Dennis and Sally. They ask: How do you manage your files on your computer, Carl? 

Thank you all for your question. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to manage your energy levels through the day

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Podcast 72

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 72 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, it’s all about energy and how to maximise your energy for the day as well as managing your energy throughout the day so you stay fully energised all day.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you ... for your question Sergio. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a purpose when you are working on a task. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Overcome Procrastination and Get Your Important Work Done

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 71 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

This week’s question comes from Annabel. Annabel asks: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we do that? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ep 70 | How To Get Your Team On Board With Productivity Tools

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to use productivity apps for group working.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 70 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 am answering a question about how to use the productivity tools we all love with our team so that everyone knows what needs doing and when.

Before I get to the answer, I’d like to thank everyone who has enrolled in the 2019 edition of Your Digital Life. I am so honoured and blessed to be able to help so many people with their productivity and time management (and goals). I do this for you, and I want you to know I am always willing to help in whatever way I can to remove stress, overwhelm and help you all become better organised and more productive. 

If you haven’t enrolled in the course yet, now’s a great time to do so. There’s updated videos, a brand new workbook and of course you get a FREE copy of Your Digital Life 2.0, the book. More details about the course are in the show notes. So check it out, if you really want to become better at managing all your work and commitments, this is certainly the course for you.

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 Daniel. Daniel asks; I work in a small team with three core people. We share a calendar for events, Todoist for tasks and Evernote for project notes. Do you have any tips for getting better collaboration with these tools? 

Hi Daniel, thank you for your question. 

This is one of those areas of productivity I find a lot of small teams miss out on. I know most companies now use a company and department-wide calendar either through Microsoft Exchange or Google, but other tools we all love and use every day for our personal lives have built-in collaboration features too and when used with our calendar tools can help keep teams on track and also allows managers to know instantly what is happening without having to distract an employee with questions. Of course, these tools work exceptionally well when you are working with remote teams.

Let’s look at a to-do list manager first. Now I am very familiar with Todoist, and I do use Asana for my Kanban project view—both of which have excellent collaboration features. I know many other to-do list managers out there, including Trello, allow for collaboration. When set up, this feature allows you to allocate tasks to your team. This means there is some accountability within your team and you can all see a project develop. Often there is a shared inbox so team members can take ownership of a new task that comes in. 

From a managerial perspective, this has obvious benefits. At any moment in time, you can review a project to see how it is developing and be alerted to any bottlenecks or issues. This does depend on how you set it up though. One tip I give companies I work with is to create an area or sub-project within the main project called “issues”. This area is where team members can add issues that come up and if necessary assign the issue to the person who can best deal with it. We have to be realistic here, it would be a very rare project that had no issues at all. Issues and problems are just a part of life and need dealing with. Having a place within a project where everyone involved can review these issues generally leads to them be solved much quicker than if they were hanging around in someone’s head. 

Using a notes app such as Microsoft’s OneNote or Evernote is also a great way to collaborate. Both these note-taking apps have fantastic abilities to collaborate with team members and one of the best ways to use it is to keep meeting notes that can be added to by all the people involved in the project. Keeping meeting notes and planning steps in there creates a kind of Wiki area where existing and new team members can get up to speed very quickly with a project. 

One of the greatest advantages of using tools such as these is there is less need to go around disturbing people with unnecessary questions so they can get on with their work in a much more focused way. 

However, while all these tools are great to have, the difficulty is getting everyone on board with them. In my experience within teams, you have a mix of people. Some love technology and will enthusiastically adopt new technologies, particularly if they can see the benefit of using them. Others are less enthusiastic and need a bit of encouragement to get them onboard. And of course, these tools only work if team members are using them properly and updating the information regularly. So how do you do that?

The most important thing is to make sure all members of your team are fully trained to use these tools. I’ve found when working with companies that these collaboration efforts fail not because people resist using them, but because team leaders do not invest enough time to train their colleagues. When a team leader introduces a new tool to help with collaboration that they have been using for many years they are afflicted with the “curse of knowledge”. They know the tools too deeply and so when they explain how to use them to their team members they explain it in such an advanced way the team members are left confused. When that happens the tools do not get used. 

A few tips here:

Firstly, create a shared note that can be used as an onboarding tool. You can put in there all the instructions on how to use the apps and, more importantly, why you are using them. Leaders should also invest enough time with their team showing them what they expect to see and how to do it. 

The important thing is your team understand the clear benefit to them for using these tools. If you do not ‘sell’ the benefits and explain why these tools will make their lives much easier, they will resist using them. 

I should point out that if your company does not allow third-party apps on company computers you can still create the same functionality using Microsoft Office or Google Docs. You can use spreadsheets for tasks and Word or Docs for notes. It’s not ideal, but when done well, can still give the same benefits to the team as a whole. 

Another tip for team leaders is when you do adopt these collaboration tools, you must stop checking with your team if they have done their assigned tasks. I have found that when leaders do not trust the tools, that trickles down into the team. Remember, the biggest benefit to using these tools is everyone is clear about what needs doing, by when and who is responsible for each task. If leaders are still calling, emailing and interrupting their team members with requests for updates then the whole system falls apart. Success with implementing these tools starts at the top. Without the leaders fully engaging with them, then it just is not going to work. 

Other tools such as Slack and Twist can also be a big help here, but I do have a word of warning. There are a lot of collaboration tools available and if you adopt too many of them things will go wrong and miscommunication will happen. This all comes back to keeping things simple. If you are thinking about beginning a system like this then keep it as simple as possible. By that I mean to restrict the number of tools you are using for collaboration. For example, use only one tool for notes and one tool for tasks. Better yet, find an application where everything is kept in one place. While I do not recommend that for personal productivity, within a team, with many different technology abilities between members, it is far better to go with the “less is more” philosophy. 

The most important part of this is you get everyone on your team involved and committed. If just one team member is not fully committed to using these tools it will not work effectively. I’ve worked with teams where the leader hides behind their lack of technology awareness and abilities by continuing to pick up the phone and ask their team for status updates. This has to stop if the leader wants it to work. In reality, the team leader needs to be the most knowledgable about the apps. When leaders adopt these tools completely, it is not long before the whole team does and when that happens you achieve that seamless collaboration system where everyone knows what needs doing, what is being done and at a glance can see exactly where a project is. 

We are rapidly moving towards a remote working world. Where people all over the world can work together as if they were all working in the same office. Because of time differences between continents, these tools make the whole process easy and effective. A great example of this working is Doist, the company behind great apps like Todoist and Twist. They are a fully remote company with people all over the world. From Asia to Europe and North and South America, their teams work together across multiple time zones and when one team member is at work, their colleague is fast asleep in a completely different time zone. This kind of working allows managers and leaders to employ the best people in the world, no matter where they are based, and they know the work is getting done with a quick view of a project in a to-do list manager. 

So to sum up, Daniel, if you want this way of work to work effectively, you need to make sure that team leaders are fully onboard with the tools and that every team member is properly trained to use the tools you want to use. Managers and leaders need to understand that if they want an update on a project they must not fall into old habits and pick up the phone, they need to go into the project in the to-do list or notes app and get the answer to their query from there. 

When your team see that the leadership are using these tools, it does not take long for everyone to fall into line and use them too. 

Thank you, Daniel, for your question and that you to all of you who have listened. I hope this episode has given you some food for thought about how you can work better within your team. Now it’s up to you to “sell” the benefits to your leaders and see if you can become a leader in the new world of collaboration. 

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

Ep 69 | How To Find Time For Yourself.

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about finding time for yourself.


Hello and welcome to episode 69 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 finding some time for yourself when your work (and life) seem to fill up all your waking hours. 

But before we get into this week’s question and answer, I’s just like to let you know that if you are enrolled in my Your Digital Life 2.0 Online course, I have updated it for 2019 and it now includes a downloadable workbook which gives you a file you can save to any of your devices so you always have a guide with you to help you keep on track on stay organised. All you need to do is go to your student dashboard and you will find all the new stuff, as well as your new free courses, right there. 

If you haven’t enrolled in this course yet, then take a look at the course. I believe this course is the best time management and productivity course there is and once you have completed the course, you will have everything you need to get yourself better organised and more productive.

Also this week, I updated my coaching programmes. My coaching programmes now start at $99 for a single session plus a follow-up call. I want to be able to help more people and I know coaching can be very expensive. But I realise if you complete the questionnaire you give me enough information before the call for me to help you turn where ever you are today into building a system that works for you using the tools you want to work with. So take look at how I can personally help you by visiting my coaching programme’s page. 

Okay, 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 Alex. Alex asks, I work in a very busy real estate office where my bosses and clients are always asking me to do work. It’s never-ending and when I finish at the end of the day, I have to spend all my free time replying to emails and catching up with the work I did not have time to do during the day. Do you have any tips on finding time to relax?

Thank you, Alex, for your question. 

Okay, this kind of problem happens to a lot of people. It usually comes about because of working in a traditionally reactive industry such as real estate where everyone expects you to deal with their issue now and are not prepared to wait an hour or so or even a day or two to get the answer they want. 

The problem here is when you are constantly working in a reactive state, mistakes are going to happen. When mistakes happen you have to allow additional time to rectify those mistakes every day. Sometimes those mistakes are simple typos on a property’s prospectus, other times it could be a much bigger mistake that takes a lot longer to rectify. So slowing down will free up more time because by doing things in a more focused manner will reduce the number of mistakes. 

So how do you find time to relax when your work never lets up and it’s a constant stream of requests and urgencies all day?

Well, the first thing to understand is by blocking some time off every day to focus on your work you are going to be in a much better place to deal with customer and colleagues requests. To do that you need to manage expectations. 

The number one reason why we end up in a situation where we are having to drop everything to deal with our customers and colleagues issues is that we trained them to expect immediate attention. I see this all the time. When we are trying to win the business or get the sale we will do almost anything for the potential client (or impress our boss) and that sets a precedent. Once the precedent is set, your client and boss will always expect you to drop everything for them. When you try to slow things down after you have won the business, the client complains or if you don’t reply to their email immediately, pick up the phone and asks you to deal with their “urgent” problem. 

The trick is to retrain your colleagues, bosses and clients. And this is much easier than you think. With your clients, all you need to do is to tell them that you are not usually available at certain times of the day. For example, if you block 10 am to 11 am every day for doing quiet work, then tell your client that you are not available between those times to answer calls or emails. In my experience, when you tell clients, colleagues and customers that you are unavailable during certain periods of time during the day they will understand. I have never had a student, client or colleague who has ever got upset because I have taken an hour or two of my day to get on and do some focused work. 

Now, according to many studies, include one done by Harvard University, people are only actually doing work for four hours a day. The rest of the time they are refilling their water bottles, chatting with colleagues, getting coffee or having their lunch or afternoon break. So, if you block 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon for quiet, undisturbed work, you are actually doing about the same amount of work a typical worker does each day. 

Another reason for not being available 24/7 for your colleagues and customers is by making is a little more difficult to get in touch with you, you train them to find their own solutions. When you are always there for people, they begin to rely on you to solve all their problems. You make it far too easy for them to just ask you to do the work instead of doing the work for themselves. In the past, I’ve had students ask me to write their emails for them because I made if far too easy and was far too quick to reply. 

When I started intentionally delaying my response times by two hours, the number of requests reduced. I never lost a student or customer. If I am being honest, I still did the work almost immediately, I just did not send it immediately. I delayed sending it. This actually gave me peace of mind knowing if my student called or messaged me asking me where the work was, I knew I was ready to send it immediately. The thing is, I never did get a call or message asking me where the work was. Because I was sending it within two hours. 

Over time I extended my response times. Now I usually tell people I will get it to them within 24 hours. This means I rarely have anything that can disrupt my daily plan and I can add in any additional work at the end of the day after I have finished my planned work. 

A good way to manage your time for this is to dedicate an hour at the end of your day for dealing with customer and colleague requests. When you send your replies later in the day, it is unlikely you will be asked for changes the same day. Remember, you are not the only busy person. Everyone thinks they are busy. 

Another way to manage your client’s expectations is to tell people right from the beginning when you stop work for the day. Now I love doing the work I do so my cut off time is 10 pm. After that time I do not respond to new emails, messages or calls. My phone automatically goes on do not disturb at 10 pm and does not come out of do not disturb until 7 am. I have told all my students and clients if they want me to do anything for them they need to get it to me by 10pm if they want a response the same day. Again, when you put some restrictions on your available time, the people you work with respect that time. 

I know it is hard to set restrictions on your time, Alex. It was very hard for me to do it when I began doing it. But in the ten years or so I have been much more restrictive about my available time, I have never had a boss, client or student complain and I have always kept my promise about when I will deliver the work they want me to do. 

People do not get angry because you protect your time and give yourself set periods of focused time each day. People get angry when you do not deliver on your promises. If you keep telling your clients “I’ll do it right away” and you then get side-tracked by another request, you are not keeping your promises to your clients. It is that that will damage your relationships with your customers. It is far better to manage expectations by telling your customers, clients and colleagues you will get it done by tomorrow or the end of the day. You can then see where you have your next period of focused work and add that task to that period. 

The final part of this answer, Alex is again to take your calendar and find at least one hour each day you can dedicate for yourself. That can either be the morning or the evening—it depends on whether you prefer mornings or evenings. That hour is for you. It is not for catching up or finishing off client work. It is an hour dedicated to you for doing the things you want to do. That could be exercise, quiet meditation or just taking a walk. We all need that alone time each day to reflect on where our life is, where we want it to go and how to get there. Without that quiet reflection time, we end up drifting and before long we have no idea where we are or even where we want to go. Our lives become a daily cycle of customer and boss requests and we end up living our life on someone else’s agenda. That is never going to lead to a fulfilled, happy life. 

So, Alex, from today, begin dedicating an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon for focused work. Tell your clients and colleagues that you are not available at that time and instead focus on doing work that is important to you. I would also suggest you pick a time each day for yourself to do with whatever you want to do. That’s just 3 hours out of 24. It is not much, it’s just 12% of your day. 

Begin telling clients when you will deliver the work. Be less specific about how much time it will take you to do the work. So for example, if you have always told clients you will get whatever it is they want you to do back to them within the hour, tell then you will get it back to them later that day. If they complain, then say”okay, I think I can get it done by the early afternoon” - you will be very surprised by how accepting your clients will be.

The thing we all have to remember is we only have a limited time on this earth and when we give up time for other people at the expense of time for ourselves we are wasting a very scarce and valuable resource… Our time. It is far better to put restrictions on our time available for clients and customers so we can spend more time with the people we love and care about. 

Good luck, Alex and I hope this answer has helped.

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

Ep 68 | How To Manage Your Email Overload

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 68 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.

I can’t believe it has taken 68 episodes to finally get to one of the biggest problems people face when it comes to productivity and time management and that is email. We all have it, and for most people, it is out of control and inboxes just get bigger and bigger every day. So, this week we are going to tackle the issue and hopefully help you to finally get email under control and, more importantly, make it so it is easily manageable and it never gets out of control again. 

But first, I am excited to tell you all that the 2019 edition of my most popular, complete productivity and time management course has just been released. Your Digital Life 2.0 Online, the 2019 edition is now available and this year I have added a brand new workbook you can download and keep so you have a ready reference guide for when things slip. Also, I have added a number of new classes around the Golden 10 and the 2+8 Prioritisation systems AND… I have updated the freebies so now you have access to two of my most recent courses for FREE!

So go on and check it out. The link to the course details is in the show notes. This course WILL give you everything you need to become super productive and much better at time management. 

Okay onto 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 Greg. Greg asks, Do you have any tips to help me get my email under control. I have over 4,000 emails in my inbox and I just do not know where to start to get this mess under control. Any help would be much appreciated. 

Thank you, Greg, for this excellent question. 

Okay, first up. Email is just another task input we have to make a decision about. Whenever a new email comes in, we need to decide what it is and what we need to do with it. Email is unique in many ways though. Unlike regular tasks, where you add it to your inbox, with email someone else is adding it to your inbox. You don’t have much control over what and how much comes in each day. Or do you? 

You see, part of the problem is we sign up for all sorts of newsletters, promotions and other services and each day those services and newsletters come in. Day after day. Because we have no control over when these newsletters and promotions come in we just let them pile up. They invade our inboxes and just sit there waiting to be dealt with. But of course these emails are not important and so we just leave them, hoping that we will have time soon to go through them and read them. Which we don’t do. 

So, here’s my first tip. Get them out of your inbox. Instead, create a webmail account. You could create a Gmail or Hotmail account for instance and only have that account available to you through the internet. Do not put this account into your email app. Only allow yourself access to it through the internet.

Other things you can use this account for is online shopping. Every time you order something use this email address. The companies you buy from will use your email address to send you offers and other promotional emails after you have ordered something, some of which you may be interested in. So having this extra email address just for your shopping and newsletters is a great way to get a lot of the email you receive each day out of your mail email accounts. 

All you need to do then is create a recurring task in your to-do list manager to remind you to check this account from time to time. 

Okay, for most of you, that will probably get rid of 50% or more of the email you receive each day. It puts you back in control of what email you see each day. 

Now, onto the management of your email. All you really need today is four folders. An inbox, an Action Today folder, a waiting for folder and an archive. That’s it. All the popular email apps today have excellent search. Gmail for Android and iOS has excellent search and so does Apple’s Mail app. This means even if you have thousands of emails in your archive, you will still be able to easily find what you are looking for whether you are searching for it by date, person or title. Learn to trust the search. It works and archiving email is not deleting email. It still going to be there if you need it. 

Right, so you now have the four folders set up, how do you manage email? Well, when an email comes in you need to make a decision about what it is and what you need to do with it. Let’s say you get an email from a customer asking you to do something for them. It could be to send a copy of a receipt or confirm when an order will arrive. So to answer the question what is it we have an email from a customer, the next question to ask is what do I have to do with it? In this case that would reply and send the copy invoice or confirm an expected delivery date. If you can do that within two minutes or so just do it now. There’s no need to have that hanging around when all it would take is two minutes of your time. 

However, if you need to find the invoice, or talk to your delivery agent first, that is going to take more than two minutes and you do not have time right now, then move the email to your Action Today folder. 

Now the thing about the Action Today folder is you need to make sure you deal with any email in there within 24 hours. If you do not have such a rule, then this folder will just end being a dumping ground for emails you have to do something about, but tell yourself you do not have time. Rules are a must here. So, apply a rule that any email in your Action Today folder must be dealt with within 24 hours. This will mean you will need to create a routine to check your Action Today folder every day. I have a recurring task in my to-do list manager that tells me to clear my Action Today folder every day and for the most part I manage to do that. 

You waiting for folder does exactly what it says. Any email you are waiting for a reply on goes in there. Now you will have to go into your sent folder and move any email you are waiting for a reply on into this folder, but that just takes a second or two so should not be too inconvenient for you. Once you receive the reply, as long as you haven’t change the title, the reply will be added to your sent email and you can then archive it straight from your inbox without having to move anything from your waiting for folder. 

Okay, so there’s some structure to your email processing system, what do you do with those 4,000 emails in your inbox? Well, here you have a choice. You can either do a hard email bankruptcy or a soft one. The choice is yours. A hard email bankruptcy means you select all the emails in your inbox and just hit the delete key. It’s the fastest way to get to inbox zero. For those of you who are a bit squeamish about this don’t worry. If an email was important, the person who sent it to you will soon send it again. If the thought of deleting all your emails scares you, you can create a new folder and call it “old inbox” and again select all your email in your inbox and move them to this new folder. Then, as and when you have time you can go through it and delete emails that mean nothing to you or move them to your archive if you want to keep them. 

Now here are a few tips to help keep your email numbers down. 

The first tip I can give you is send less email. Instead, use instant messaging or just pick up the phone. Too often we take the easy route and send an email to ask a simple question that could be done in less than a minute if you picked up the phone. When you send that kind of email inevitably you are going to get an email in reply. My rule here is only send an email if it is absolutely necessary. The less email you send, the less email you get in return. Before sending an email, just ask yourself if there is a faster way to get the outcome you want. You’d be surprised how often you find a better, faster way.

Another tip is to protect your email address like you would your telephone number. Only give it out to people you trust. One of the worst things you can do is to put your business card into one of those collection boxes you find in bars and restaurants promising you-you could win a prize. True, you might win a prize, but you are also compromising the integrity of your email system too. To me, that price is far too high to risk having my email address added to yet another mailing list. 

Finally, I see a lot of people sending actionable emails over to their to-do list manager. Don’t do this! All this is going to do is fill up your to-do list inbox and you will be going from one app to another app and back again. That is such a waste of time. Emails that need you to take action should be in your Action Today folder in your email app. All you need is a simple task telling you to clear your action today folder. As I said earlier, I have such a daily recurring task and I see that around 4 or 5pm. I will then spend thirty minutes or so dealing with those important emails. 

Well, Greg, I hope that has given you some tips you can implement. I find the tip that has the biggest impact on your email is to create that Action Today folder and make sure you clear it every day. Seeing a list of ten or so emails that need action is far easier to manage than a list of 4,000 emails you are not sure whether they need replies or not., and if they do it takes you so much time to actually find the email you want to reply to. 

Thank you for your question, Greg, and thank you for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering then email me(hahaha) at… Don’t worry my email is completely under control and you WILL get a reply within 24 hours… I promise. Or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

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

Ep 67 | How To Get A System To Stick

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about Getting GTD to work for you.

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 67 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 we are visiting the various systems that many of us follow and how to overcome problems when we cannot get it to stick.

But before we delve into the question and answer, I’d like to point you in the direction of my YouTube channel. Recently I have posted a few videos that could really help you get clarity and focus on your work and the things you want to get done. In particular my recent videos on creating a daily workflow in Todoist. Although it is focused on Todoist, the principles of building a workflow in whatever to-do list manager you are using will still apply. And last week’s Productivity Mastery video on discovering your North Star is certainly a must watch. Without finding your purpose—your North Star—you will find yourself running round and round in circles are living your life on other people’s agendas and that is never going to result in a good outcome for you. So check them out. I know they will really help you to get better organised and more productive. 

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

This week’s question comes from Jane. Jane asks: Hi Carl, I’ve read all the usual productivity books from Getting Things Done to your book, Your Digital Life and I understand the ideas in all the books I’ve read. My problem is I just can’t get anything to stick and I end up either not doing what I should be doing or just writing things down on random bits of paper. Do you have any advice to help me get something to stick? 

Ooh that’s a good question Jane and thank you for sending it in. Now, I have come across this kind of problem before and it is more common than people might think. There’s a lot of great books on productivity and time management out there with some very sound advice. The difficulty people often find is getting the principles and methods in the books to stick.

The first thing to understand is that the ideas and principles in these books are a set of guiding principles that have worked for the author. In the case of Getting Things Done, for example, creating lists based on contexts (people, places and things) works for David Allen. And for a lot of people organising their to-do lists based on where they are, what tools they have with them and who they are with doesmakes sense. But for other people, myself included, they have never been able to get the context based to-do list to work effectively. 

When Getting Things Done was first written in 2001, the smartphone as we know and love it today did not exist. If you wanted to do any kind of email work you needed to be at a computer. Likewis,e if you needed to write a report or essay, you also needed to be at a computer. Today, however, I reply to a lot of my email and often start writing my weekly blog on the bus from my iPhone. I do not need to be at a computer or sat in my office. I can do all those things anywhere at any time. 

Whenever I visit a client’s office or meet up with a student of mine, I always have my bag with me and in there I have my iPad. I can create presentations, build spreadsheets and do video conference calls from that device. Again, I no longer have to be in a specific location to do any of those things. If I were to follow the context based list it would be very difficult to allocate specific tasks to specific lists and I would waste a lot of valuable time and energy trying to figure out where tasks should go. 

So contexts do not really work for me. However, the principles of collecting everything in to an inbox and processing my inboxes every 24 - 48 hours does work. Ever since I first read GTD back in 2009, that is something I have religiously stuck to and it works 100% of the time for me. In fact, it works so well, I also adopted the same principles for managing my email. My email is zeroed out every 24 hours. 

In the end, after fighting to get contexts to work for me I gave up on them. Instead, I created lists based on what I felt needed to be done on specific days. The funny thing is I still add contexts to my tasks, in the hope they will one day work, but after ten years I guess I have to accept they are not going to work for me. 

Last year I decided to begin doing Robin Sharma’s 5AM Club. What this is is waking up at 5AM every morning and following a system of three 20 minute parts. In those sessions, you begin with 20 minutes of exercise, then 20 minutes planning and to finish you do 20 minutes of self-learning. The problem I had here was I prefer doing my exercise in the afternoons and I always do my planning in the evening but I did want to do the learning part. In addition, I also wanted to have some time each day for quiet reflection and meditation. So, I created my own “hour of power” as Robin Sharma likes to call it and do 45 minutes of studying (in my case Korean) and 15 minutes of meditation. I never check email or do anything else—no matter how busy I am—that one hour between 5AM and 6AM is my special, personal time. 

All these systems and ideas by amazing people like David Allen and Robin Sharma work, but they work for them. What we need to do is to find a way to make the principles they advocate fit in to our lives. I am not David Allen or Robin Sharma. I am me. I work in a different industry, I live in a different country and I work in a different way. And when it comes to the 5AM Club, I will have different biorhythms to Robin Sharma. But that does not mean their ideas do not work at all for other people. They do work. They are build on sound principles and have been tried and tested. 

What you need to do, Jane, is find a way to implement these principles in a way that works better for you. 

Let’s take Getting Things Done. The basic principle of getting everything off your mind and into a trusted place is an absolute. If you are not doing that, then you are going to forget something and things will get lost. So creating an inbox either a digital one or a physical one or both, I use both, is a must. I have a metal inbox next to my desk for random bits of paper and regular mail. But for the most part, my Todoist inbox is my trusted place. Anything and everything that comes in to my mind that I want to do something with will begin it’s journey there. I also use my Evernote inbox for articles I want to read or reference materials I collect throughout the day. 

Next, processing. Now David Allen recommend this is done every 24 to 48 hours. I do this every evening when I do my Golden 10. I go through what I collected and make a decision about what something is and what I want to do with it. A lot of what I collect gets done straight from my inbox. They are often quick messages or sending an invoice. I do not need to put them into a project first. It will take a very small amount of time, so I just get it done (the two minute principle at work here—if it can be done in 2 minutes or less do it now) I then move in to my 2+8 Prioritisation system. This is where I plan tomorrow by selecting two tasks as my objectives for the day—the two things I will get done no matter what…well except for extreme emergencies, and the 8 other tasks I would like to focus on. 

Now, the Golden 10 and the 2+8 Prioritisation system are not part of the GTD book. They are things I created to focus me in on what I decide is important to me. 

Now throughout the day, I do not work from different contexts, like home or office or computer etc. I work from my Today’s Focus list. This is a list that contain the ten things (2+8) I want to get done that day. 

What I have done is created a system that works for me, that was built on the foundations of GTD, but modified so it fits better for the way I work. What I am doing is collecting, organising at the end of the day and the rest of the time I am doing (my COD system—collect, organise, do) and that is what you should do too, Jane. Find a system amongst all the ideas you have read about that work better for you. 

Now, some people have challenged me and said that because I am not following GTD exactly as it is written in the book, or because I do not follow the 20/20/20 principle of the 5AM Club (exercise, plan and study) then I cannot say I am a GTDer or a member of the 5AM Club. Okay, then I accept that. But what I see is I get the same benefit and the same outcome as I would if I were to follow the principles exactly as they are set out in the books, but I am doing it my way. A way the works better for me and fits better into my way of life. I still plan my day, I still exercise (actually I exercise for more than 20 minutes per day) and I still study. I also still capture everything that comes across my mind, I still process and organise those thoughts and tasks and I still do a weekly review every week. 

So, Jane, and for all of you listeners out there. Whenever you learn a new system or a new way of doing something from a book or a video or a course, remember always to adapt it for the way you live. How you do something is less important than the outcome you get. If you prefer collecting your ideas into a little pocket notebook and transferring them over to a digital system every three days or so, then great. As long as it works for you. Likewise, if you don’t like waking up at 5AM and prefer to wake up at 6AM and do your planning and self-development study then exercise in the evenings, then great. Do that. If it works for you, you are still planning, exercising and developing yourself. You still experience the same benefits in the long-term. 

I have always been inspired by Stephen Covey’s quote “begin with the end in mind” - meaning begin with the outcome you desire and work backwards. If you want to be healthier, wiser and better focused on what you want, then giving yourself enough time each day for exercise, planning and learning is what matters. Waking up at 5AM is just one way of doing it. Likewise, if you want to get yourself better organised and more productive, then collecting everything on your mind, organising what you collected regularly and spending the majority of your time doing the work is how you will get there. You don’t have have contexts attached to every item in your list. How you collect and organise your ideas, events and tasks is up to you. Find a way that works. 

I hope that answers your question, Jane and thank you.

Thank you also to you for listening and I do hope you got a lot out of this episode. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering, you can email ( or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

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

Ep 66 | How Regain Control Of Your Daily To-do List

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about managing an overwhelming to-do list.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 66 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 regaining control of your day and the tasks you have to complete so you get your important work done and can actually have some time to yourself each day.

Before I get into this week’s question though, I’d just like to remind you to enrol in my FREE beginners guide to creating your own COD system. This course will give you the framework to develop a simple system that is easy to maintain and will boost your productivity by keeping you focused on the things that are important and will help you to eliminate the unimportant things—the things that do not take you closer to your North Star—ie, your purpose. So get yourself enrolled. It’s free and will only take you around 40 minutes to complete. 

Okay, onto 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 Michael. Michael asks: Hi Carl, I have so many tasks every day on my to-do list that I do not know where to start. Is there anything I can do that will help me to make better decisions?

Thank you, Michael, for your question. Now I know this problem is a very common problem indeed. Often we rush to collect everything that comes across our mind whether that is an event, a task or an idea and we dump them all into our to-do list’s inbox. To be honest, that’s actually a very good place to start. Collecting everything is a good thing—after all, it is the first step of COD (collect, organise and do). Now if we are not organising those items at least every day or two, things are going to mount up, and when we look at an overflowing inbox our minds begin to dread looking there and then the whole system begins to fall apart. 

So it is important you organise the stuff you collect every day. But, when you do organise you need to be thinking strategically. If you just randomly date things just to get them out of your inbox and so you know they will pop up in your today list one day in the future you are going to have a few problems. The first problem of course is you will have a list of to-dos in your today view that don’t really need doing that day. When that happens we tend to stop prioritising our today list. The purpose of your today list is that anything on there really does need your attention that day. It could be a simple reminder task to review a project that after seeing it, you decide to put off for another week. That’s okay, the important thing is when a task appears on your today list it has to appear there because you want to see it on that specific day. If you do not need to see it that day, then it should not be on your today list. 

And that brings me to another problem I often see. That is one of trust. If you do not trust you will see a task when you need to see a task you will date everything—randomly— and that causes a long list of tasks on a today list you do not need to see. It’s a trust issue. 

Now not trusting your system can be because you have just started with a productivity system and it will take time to trust it. It could be caused by constantly switching to-do list managers so you are not sure if everything migrated across properly from your previous to-do list manager or it could be because you are not doing a full weekly review—which is the most common reason. 

Now there are two types of weekly reviews. There’s a normal, take it slowly with a nice cup of tea and some great music weekly review and then there’s the secret weekly review that people like me who coach people to become better organised and more productive don’t like to tell you about. But, because I am feeling VERY generous today, and will tell you… But only this once so listen carefully…

The secret weekly review is called the “skimmed weekly review”. The skimmed weekly review only takes around fifteen to twenty minutes, as opposed to the full forty-five to sixty minutes a normal weekly review takes, and what you do is go through all your projects and areas of focus quickly just checking that the tasks you have there are still relevant and have the correct dates on them. With a full weekly review, you go through each project and area of focus carefully and compare your tasks with your calendar to make sure your dated to-dos fall on the right days and at the right times. 

I don’t recommend you do the skimmed weekly review often, but sometimes if you are on a business trip or you are particularly busy then it can be useful just to keep yourself up to date and moving forward. 

If you do worry about not seeing your tasks when you need to see them then review how you do your weekly review. Make sure you have your calendar open when you do it and compare your daily task lists for each day against your calendar. If one day next week you have back to back meetings all day, then you need to reduce the number of tasks on your list for that day. If you have a very quiet day where you can focus on your work for a long period of time, then you can allocate a few more to-dos for that day. 

So, hopefully, if you have a good weekly review behind you, you should find that your daily tasks list for each day reflects how busy you are for each day next week. 

Next step to reducing your daily to-do list and to help make better decisions on what you should be working on is to use the 2+8 Prioritisation system. I’ve covered this many time before so I won’t go into details here. I will put a link in the show notes to a video I did on it a few months ago. 

Now basically the 2+8 Prioritisation system asks you to choose two tasks that you really must get done that day. And that barring an emergency you WILL make sure you get them done. 

Then you have 8 other tasks you have chosen the night before that would have the biggest positive impact on your work or goals if you complete them the next day. That’s it. 

This means when you start the day you already know what exactly you want to accomplish that day. And you will put all your focus and attention on those ten tasks and in particular, the two objective tasks that you have chosen MUST get done that day. 

Now the reason why you do this the night before instead of on the morning of the day itself is so when you start the day you already know exactly what it is you should be doing. There’s no chance you will waste any time thinking about what to do, or get yourself lost in a sea of tasks you might like to get done. You have ten tasks and you will do everything you can to get them completed by the end of the day. 

Of course there will be interruptions and more tasks coming in throughout the day, that’s normal day to day life. As they come in you need to assess their urgency and decide if you need to do them that day or not. But your focus for the day is the 2+8 tasks you have already chosen to complete that day. The whole point is if you get those ten tasks complete you will feel you have had a productive day. 

I should point out here that your 2+8 tasks do not include any routine housekeeping tasks you have to do every day. For example, I do not include my daily admin tasks in my 2+8 Prioritisation system. My daily routines take around 30 minutes each day and I have those 30 minutes scheduled on my calendar at 9:30 pm every day to complete. I do not need to see those tasks until 9:30 pm and so they are out of view until that time. How you do that will depend on the to-do list manager you are using, but it is worth figuring out because when your list only shows two tasks when you look at it in the morning you will feel a lot less overwhelmed and stressed. 

Another bit of advice I can give you Michael is to get into the habit of asking yourself a simple question when you sit down to organise your day. That question is one I have already alluded to and that is:

What tasks can I complete tomorrow that will have the biggest positive impact on my projects and goals?

It’s a powerful question and will lead you to make the right decisions about what you should be working on. Make sure you include your goals in there somewhere. If you are not including your goals you will not make any progress on your goals. So make sure somewhere in those ten tasks you have at least one goal task. 

Having your goals on your daily priorities list is the best way to make sure you are always heading towards your North Star. The place you want to be in ten or twenty-five years time. Of course, this will change as you travel towards it, it always does. Some things we want to achieve today become less important as time goes by, and that’s perfectly okay. The important thing is you are always travelling towards the destination you want to go, not the destinations others would like to drag you. 

The biggest problem today is not the work we have to do, with all the technology and automation available to us that can easily be dealt with. It’s the expectations we place on ourselves. Our perceived capacity for work is bigger than the time we have available each day. So we either rush to get work done and end up with a lower standard of work than we are capable of, or we spend far too much time doing work and not enough time getting the valuable rest we need to be able to perform at our best every day. This causes a super-stressed state which does not do us any good physically or mentally. You need to get more realistic about what you can do in a day. 

One way to do this is to monitor how long it takes you to do a piece of work you regularly have to do. For example, I know to write my weekly blog post takes around 90 minutes and to edit it takes roughly 30 to 40 minutes. To record my weekly YouTube videos takes about 2 hours and the editing takes about a further 2 hours. This means I can schedule blocks of time to do this work each week. Once these blocks are on my calendar, I can relax knowing I have the time available to do the work. And remember, the golden rule of calendars… What goes on your calendar gets done. 

Well, I hope that answers your question for you, Michael. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, then get in touch either by email ( or via Twitter or Facebook. 

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

Episode 65 | How to Find Your Focus And Concentration

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about finding focus and concentration.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 65 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 getting your life under control when everything goes crazy and the workload mounts up. A situation that can happen to any of us at any time. 

Before I do get into this week’s question though I would like to thank you all for listening and to remind you that if you have a question you would like answering on this show, then all you have to do is to either email me or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

And for those of you who feel their ‘system’ is not working, then be sure to check out my FREE online course, The Beginners Guide to Building You Own COD system. This course could change your life because the simplicity, and easy maintenance of the COD system, when implemented has the power to dramatically boost your productivity.

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

This week’s question comes from Nonica. Nonica asks: Hello Carl, really I'm struggling with lack of focus and concentration. I have many pending writing projects and I have been missing deadlines I feel extremely distracted. I would be very grateful for your advice, suggestions and guidance. 

Hi Nonica, thank you very much for your question. 

Now I know at times it can be very hard to know what to focus on when you have so many things coming at you at once. This can be particularly so when you have an ever-increasing workload and family and personal commitments to attend to. When things become overwhelming in this way, our brain becomes our worst enemy because it starts screaming at you and reminding you all the time about the work you have to get done and does so at the most inconvenient of times. It will remind you-you have to finish off writing an article just as you are drifting off to sleep at the end of the day. It will remind you of the meeting preparation you have to do as you are trying to enjoy a romantic dinner with your partner and it will remind you-you have to call someone at 3AM in the morning—the worst time to call someone.

Now when you feel completely overwhelmed and you don’t know where to start you need to take some timeout and stop. I know, when you feel you a lot to do, the very thought of stopping doing what you need to do seems a stupid idea, but if all you are doing is running around in a state of indecision and inactivity then stopping that for an hour or so is not going to have any impact on your current productivity or ability to get work done because you aren’t actually getting any work done anyway.

Okay, the first thing you need to do is to calm your brain and the best way to do that is to get everything you have on your mind out of your mind and into an external place. That could be a piece of paper or a digital list. Where you write it doesn’t really matter. What matters is you get everything out of your head. Your mind is a terrible place to hold all your commitments and work because your mind doesn’t really know when you need reminding of things and so it reminds you of everything all at once and that’s why you end up feeling overwhelmed. 

Once you have everything written down you need to start organising and prioritising. This is why it is often better to get all this into a digital to-do list. A task list manager such as Todoist (which has a free version) would be a great way to do this because you can drag and move around items in a list. What you do is list out all the things you wrote down into categories and priorities. So for example, if you have six writing projects you would group those together and then prioritise them by when they are due to be completed. If you have a list of errands that need completing you would group those errands together and again prioritise which ones are the most important ones. Keep doing this until you have everything on your list categorised and prioritised. 

If you give yourself two hours to do the brain dump and the organising you should be able to get most things into some kind of logical order in that time. 

Okay, so great you now have a long, organised, list of things to do, How does that help me get things done? I hear you ask.

Good question. Here’s the answer: open up your calendar. Now hopefully, you have all your events already on your calendar. This should include your professional and personal commitments. If you don’t, do it now. You need to see where you have blocks of time. For most people, you will have a mix of meetings (onsite and offsite) as well as your personal commitments such as spending time with your family and friends, dental and medical appointments etc. 

Now the reason you use your calendar is that your calendar is a list of the 24 hours you have each day. It is a visual representation of the time you have available each day and it never lies… Well unless you put stuff on there you never do. And you should not be doing that with your calendar. 

Before we go any further you need to implement a golden rule. That is: “what goes on your calendar gets done.” No excuses! The only reason an event on your calendar does not get done is either because the appointment was cancelled or for an absolute emergency. Your calendar, from now on, is your one productivity tool that will never ever lie. This has to be the one commitment you make to yourself that you stick to whatever happens. 

Okay, so you have your calendar open and your professional and personal commitments are on there. What do you do next? 

Right, now look at tomorrow. Where are the blank time slots? You may have a time slot between 8am and 10am where you have nothing on. Block that off right now. Choose one of the categories you have on your list of things to do and write that in that block. So in your case, Nonica, you could write in that block “Writing Time”. So now you have made a commitment to yourself to spend two hours writing tomorrow between 8AM and 10AM. And it is a commitment. Now it is on your calendar and remember, “what’s on your calendar gets done” so you are committed. 

Now, it’s a good idea to bring in the principles of the Golden 10 here—That is spending ten minutes at the end of the day to plan the next day—What you do here is look at your calendar and see you have a writing commitment between 8AM and 10AM tomorrow morning. Make a decision the night before in your ten-minute planning session on what you will write in that two hours. You do not want to be deciding that at 8AM tomorrow morning. You need to make that decision well before you sit down to write so you do not start wasting time procrastinating. 

Now let’s say you have a regularly recurring event that you know you must do or you feel obligated to do. This could be something like having to take care of elderly parents or grandparents. This again is a commitment and something you should get on your calendar. To me, family is far more important than work and so comes in at number 1 on my priorities list. As I fill out my calendar with time slots for the work I have to do, my family commitments would be put on there first. If a family member is in a hospital for example, then I would be scheduling visiting times every day. If the hospital visiting times are in the early evenings, then block that time off. Doing this means you get to see the available times you have for getting your work done. 

Now, if you do have an unusually high amount of work to do, you may want to schedule more time in the evenings for additional work time. This often happens to me when I am developing a course or editing a book. I would schedule additional work time between 9pm and 11pm for doing that work. This is only temporary and so I do not worry too much about my work-life balance in those times. The work has to be done, and once it has been done I can relax. 

Now over the next two to three weeks, you schedule your time slots to take care of all the work that is on your list. How you and what your schedule, of course, will be up to you and the deadlines you have coming up. You have to decide what gets done first. 

Okay, so that takes care of the list you created when you did your mind dump. But there is another issue here. Life does not stop just because you have emptied your head of all the things you have to do. Life has a bad habit of creating more work for us every day so you are going to be picking up more work after you have completed your list. In this case, depending on how much work you have to do right now, you may need to put a temporary stop to new work coming in. In these situations, you need to talk to your work generators (as I like to call them) and ask then to freeze new work for a couple weeks so you can catch up. In my experience, people are very reasonable and will accommodate your request. It’s only a temporary freeze and it will allow you to catch up and get everything in perspective. 

If your work generators are not willing to freeze new work, you are going to have to allow sufficient time on your calendar for the new work coming in. This means keeping an hour or so each day free for such situations. The good news here is if you do not need that time for new work you can allocate other work to that time. 

The final piece to this is to make sure you are not writing out your tasks so they feel overwhelming. If you write your task out as “write end of year report” and you know the end of year report is a 10,000 word report, you are not going to be motivated to do anything and you will feel overwhelmed. Instead, write “write 500 or 1,000 words of the end of year report” or you could write, as I do, “continue writing end of year report” That is a much more manageable chunk and you are much more likely to be motivated to get it done. By using the words “continue writing” I write as much as I can and I don’t get that mental panic of thinking I have to write the full 10,000 words. 

Other things you should be doing during your blocked out time is to switch off your distractions. That means your phone, your email and the people around you. Use headphones if you can and listen to great music. The Anjunabeats Worldwide and Above And Beyond’s Group Therapy podcasts are great to work to, and if you prefer something a little slower try the Anjunadeep podcast. I will put links to these fantastic podcasts in the show notes. 

And that’s really all you can do, Nonica. You need to first get everything on your mind off your mind and into an external place—paper or digital—then you need to categorise what those things are. Once you have that done use your calendar to block the time off you need to get them done. The only way the work will get done is if you do the work and to do the work you need to make time to do it. You calendar can be your best friend there. 

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

Thank you to you also for listening. I do this for you guys and I want to help as many of you as I can to become better organised and more productive. So if you know anyone that could benefit from subscribing to this podcast please share it with them. 

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

Episode 64 | How To Manage Multiple Personal and Professional Roles

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about managing multiple roles in your life.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 64 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.

Well, I hope your year has started well and you are making significant progress on your goals. This week, I have a great question about managing multiple roles in your life and I know many of you out there are not just doing a job, you are also a parent, a friend, a teacher and perhaps a church or community leader. These are roles that create specific tasks and projects that you need to be managing. 

Before we get into this week’s question, if you haven’t already enrolled in my FREE Beginners Guide To Creating Your Own COD system, then now is a great time to do so. The course packed full of ideas for you to create your own productivity system around the basic principle of Collecting, Organising and Doing (See C.O.D) the foundations of any great productivity system is simplicity and you can’t get any simpler than COD. 

So, if you do struggle with productivity, then this course will only take you around forty minutes to complete and once you complete it you will have the basics to create your own system and a system that will grow and work for you whatever your roles are now and into the future. So go on, get yourself enrolled now and begin a whole new productive life. 

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

This week’s question comes from Jim. Jim asks: What are some strategies to manage a personal and professional life that is composed of many, multiple roles?

Thank you, Jim, for the wonderful question.

What Jim has done here is just a few simple words has described what most people face. That is a life with multiple roles. So the question becomes, how do I manage all those roles? 

Now, the first thing I am going to assume is that most of you listening to this podcast use some form of to-do list manager. Either that is a full Digital system such as Todoist, Trello or Omnifocus or a simple notebook and pen. When you have many roles it is important to have a place where you can manage all the tasks you need to do to maintain those roles. 

So the first thing I am going to suggest is you create an areas of focus area in your to-do list manager. This needs to be quite separate from your projects list. Now for most of you using a task management system, you are likely to have an area where you list out your various projects. These projects are deadline specific and you complete set of defined tasks that will lead you to a completed project by the deadline date. Once the project is complete you can archive the project. 

Areas of focus are quite different because they have no deadline date, or at least no fixed deadline date. An example of this would say if you run a blog. Each week there will be tasks you need to complete to write and publish a blog post, but the blog itself has no deadline date because you are writing and publishing every week. So you have an area of focus called “blog” and inside that will be your recurring writing tasks and maybe some maintenance tasks you need to perform from time to time. 

Now, the changes come when you have a specific project related to your blog. Let’s say for example you decide to redesign your blog. Now you have a project because the redesign of your blog will have a deadline—a date you want to complete the redesign by. When this happens you can create a project for the redesign in your active projects list for the redesign. 

So hopefully that gives you a basic definition of what a project is an what an area of focus is.

So let’s look at Jim’s specific question. If you have multiple roles such as a parent, a community leader you are going to have regular recurring tasks related to those roles. If you don’t that’s great, but you should still create the area of focus—I’ll explain in a moment. 

For those regular recurring tasks related to your roles, you can put them into your area of focus. For example, if you spend Saturday afternoon doing activities with your kids, then you may have a recurring task to talk with your kids about what they would like to do each week. Or if you are a community leader you may have to prepare an agenda for a monthly meeting. All these tasks can go into your area of focus related to your role. Weekly activities with your kids and preparing the monthly agenda recur, individually you could argue they have deadlines, but as they recur regularly I would not consider them as individual projects. That would just make your active projects list overly long and unnecessary. 

Other areas of focus that you can use are for things like professional development, or side projects such as a part-time business you are building. Way back in the late 1990s I had a part-time business as a mobile Djay. Most weekends I was doing a disco somewhere and each event I did was different. Sometimes it was a wedding and in the UK it is the tradition for the bride and groom to start off the dancing with their favourite song. That meant for each wedding we did I needed to find out from the bride and groom what their first dance song was to be. If I did not have it—and in those days we used CDs, not MP3s—I had to go out and buy it. Other things I needed to find out each week was what kind of event we were doing, was it a birthday? A company event or something else. I also needed to know the age group of the people attending as that affected the kind of music I played. All these questions needed answering before the event, so I used a checklist in my Franklin Planner that contained all the questions I needed to ask our agent. I would have a recurring call every Wednesday with our agent to get the answers to these questions. Today I would be using my digital to-do list and it would be much simpler as I would create a recurring task in my Djay area of focus to call my agent each week and have the questions I needed to ask in a templated checklist for each event in Evernote. 

If you have multiple professional roles such as I do, I am an English teacher and a have my productivity business. I separate these out in my areas of Focus. I have my English teaching business as an area of focus and single action tasks such as doing something for a student can be placed in there. Likewise, if I need to do something for my coaching clients, I would place that task in my productivity business’s area of focus. 

When you have multiple roles, and I think most of us have if we really sat down to think about it, having a separate place for your areas of focus can help to keep you on top of everything going on in your life. Now we have to remember there are only 24 hours in each day and we can’t change that. Mondays for me, for example, I have a lot of English classes and so on Sunday when I plan my day, I know to look exclusively in my teaching areas of focus folder because that is where my focus for the day is going to be. Likewise, on Friday afternoons I do all my video recording, so on a Thursday I look at my YouTube Channel area of focus as well as my content scheduling board to see if there is anything I need to focus on when I do my recordings. When I check my calendar I know if I have a coaching call the next day and who with, so I can review my notes and client feedback and do some preparation for the call before the call itself. 

Another great reason to use areas of focus is you can decide if you want to spend a month focused on a particular area of your life. The end of the year holiday season has just ended and for many of 'sus we may have eaten and drunk a little too much. So it's get back in to shape season. So, if you have an area of focus for your health and fitness you may decide that this month you will put a lot more focus on that area and do a lot more activities related to losing weight and getting fit. 

One more thing and I know this is specific to you, Jim, is if you want to build a professional speaking career. This again would be an area of focus. Each new speaking engagement may become an active project, but to build the career there are going to be a number of activities you will need to do each week. You will need to be developing your expertise in your chosen area, you will need to be communicating with agencies and conference organisers etc. These will be ongoing tasks and so should be an area of focus. So if you decide to send out five to ten profiles to event organisers and agencies each week you will have a task to do that either on a specific day or spread out over a few days each week. 

So, if you do have multiple roles, and I am sure you do as we all do in some form or another, I would spend some time thinking about the different roles you have and decide which ones you want to focus on. Then create an area of focus for each one. Do not worry if some have nothing in them at the moment. It could be that you decide that some of those areas you do not want to focus on right now. When you do have the list put together though make sure you review them each week when you do your weekly review. That way nothing is being forgotten and you can decide if you want to put some focus on those areas during the following week. 

Remember, an area of focus does not have a deadline date, a project does. You may have projects that come from an area of focus from time to time and you can create that project in your active projects list. As soon as the project is complete you can archive it and put the management of the project in your areas of focus if it needs managing. 

I hope that has answered your question, Jim and thank you for sending it in. 

Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast get in touch either by email ( or by DMing me on Twitter or Facebook. 

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