This week's episode is a little different as I have been away. However, all will return to normal next week, so please enjoy this episode on the three (four?) stages of project success taken from my Productivity Mastery Series over on YouTube.
Do you ever wish you could convince your co-workers to be better organised and more productive? Well, this week that’s what I am digging in to.
Hello and welcome to episode 104 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast 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.
Have you ever wished you could convince your teammates and the people you work with to be a little more organised and productive? Well, that’s the topic I am tackling this week.
Now, before we get into this week’s question, I’d like to point out to all you wonderful listeners that we have just entered the last three months of the year. Yes, 2019 has entered its final few months and that means it’s the best time to begin thinking about what you want to achieve next year.
Now, this is just the thinking stage. You do not have to plan anything yet. When you begin the process in October you give yourself plenty of time to think of, ponder, wonder and reject ideas for next year. It also means that you have time to really go deep and consider all things in your life.
To help you, I have an annual planning template that you can download for free from my website—carlpullein.com— All you have to do is go to the downloads page and there, near the top, is the PDF file waiting for you to download it and start filling in.
If you are an Evernote user, you can also add the Evernote template to your Evernote by clicking on the link in the show notes. I did a video last week on how to complete the planning sheet, so if you want to learn more head over to my YouTube channel and watch the Evernote video from last week.
Okay, on with the show 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 Kelly. Kelly asks: Hi Carl, I have always been an organised person but I work in a team of people who never write anything down and are always forgetting deadlines or not replying to messages and emails in a timely manner. Is there anything I can do to get my team more organised?
Ooh, great question, Kelly, and one with a simple answer—no.
You see the difficulty here is to become better organised and more productive is a choice. It’s not as if there is a switch you can pull and everyone in your office will start following GTD or COD.
However, while I was thinking about how I would answer your question, Kelly, I remembered a time when I worked in a car dealership and the general manager, whose name was Andrew Donovan, was one of the most organised people I have ever met.
Andrew wrote everything down and when he asked you to do something, you knew he would not forget to follow up with you.
Now, this was before smartphones and computers on every desk—it was the early nineties—and Andrew’s system was simple, yet brilliant.
Whenever Andrew had a meeting he would write everything down on to a sheet in a reporters notebook. Everyone in the meeting saw him do this. So you knew if he asked you to do something, it was written down. Once the meeting was over, Andrew would then add the action and follow up items to his leather A4 diary which went everywhere he went.
What I noticed was that Andrew’s system was soon adopted by many of the departmental managers and that trickled down to other team members.
Now, I don't know your position in your company, Kelly, but whatever your role, that is perhaps one way you could change things within your team. Set an example. If your colleagues and partners see how effective you are at getting your work done, how you always respond to emails quickly and effectively and hit your milestones and deadlines consistently, then they will want to know how you do it.
Your question got me thinking about how I would go about influencing colleagues and partners who have never been particularly organised or even interested in being organised before, I realised if I were teaching someone who has never been very organised or is not in the habit of writing things down I would not start with technology.
Technology might be something we are interested in, most people are not. Learning how to use an app like Trello or Todoist can be difficult for someone not used to using anything more sophisticated than their email or messaging app.
Most people still have pieces of paper and pens on their desks though. So the trick is to get them into the habit of writing things down. In the past, I have introduced people to apps and failed miserably. Not everyone is into technology, so pushing colleagues and partners to use apps like Todoist, Trello or Asana is often a waste of time. The learning curve is too steep. Let them discover apps for themselves.
Instead, encourage them to keep a list on their desk.
Andrew got his management team to change by being open. In meetings, everyone saw him write down actionable items. Every time anyone met Andrew in his office his diary was open on his desk in full view of anyone visiting so you could see very clearly how he organised his work. His system was simple and if you asked him about it, he would explain it in simple terms. That’s what you need to do. Whenever anyone asks you about how you stay organised, keep it simple. Don’t go off into the wonders of technology—that might excite us, but it does not excite everyone.
Now that said, I have a few clients who use Todoist and have found they can share a team project with their staff and within a short period of time their staff are using Todoist to manage their own projects. How you do this is create the project in Todoist and then share it with your team. (in this case, or other apps that you can share projects such as Trello and Asana would work too) This works well with simple projects and you will have to manage the project closely until your staff and colleagues are using it regularly. It will require a lot of patience from you, but if you can get your team and colleagues onboard, you will have begun the process of building a highly organised team.
If you want to do this, I have a free downloadable PDF file showing how to set up Todoist and I also have a FREE online course for beginners too. These are all designed to help you or anyone else for that matter get started with Todoist. It might help get your team involved if you are a Todoist user of course.
Another way to help your colleagues become better organised is to encourage better use of calendars. The simple calendar is one of the most powerful productivity tools out there and almost everyone knows how to use their calendar.
Show your colleagues how to block time and explain why they should be doing it. Show them how to add simple to-dos —Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar and Apple’s calendar all allow you to add to-dos in one form or another. You can create to-dos as all-day events and they will then show up at the top of your calendar--this is really how Andrew was organising things in his diary.
The reporters' notebook was his collection tool, and he would then organise when he would do the work or follow-up the work in his diary. You can easily teach this to your colleagues. It’s essentially about having a place to collect the things you have to do and are committed to doing and then spread the tasks out over the week in your calendar. It’s simple, does not involve a lot of technology or learning curves and you can see how you are doing as you go through the week.
The reality is, though, if your colleagues cannot see a benefit for themselves being better organised and more productive no amount of persuasion by you will change anything. The best approach is to lead by example. Show your colleagues how much more relaxed you are, how you are able to go home on time and enjoy a great social life.
Be willing to explain the way you do things in a broken down, non-tekkie way and be patient. People do come round if you can show them how much more in control and stress-free you are. But never boast or criticise the way other people do (or not do) things. If you criticise and find fault all you will do is turn them against you. Be positive, encourage and stay humble. Nobody wants to follow a big head.
Thank you, Kelly, for your excellent question and thank you to all of you for listening. If you would like your question answering on this show, then please send me a quick email - firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links and freebies are in the show notes.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Do you find you are great a creating a system and then soon find yourself not using it, or falling off the wagon as we say? It happens to us all from time t time and that’s the topic of this week’s question.
Hello and welcome to episode 103 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 show you how to maintain your productivity system once you have it up and running and give you a few tips on how not to fall off the productivity wagon once you are on it.
Now, before we get into this week’s question, for those of you who don’t know, I also have a YouTube channel and a blog where I post a lot of productivity and time management content each week. Over on YouTube, I focus a lot on Todoist, Drafts and Evernote as well as some useful tips and tricks. And my weekly blog dives deep into some of the issues that come up from time to time and how to overcome them.
Details on all these additional resources for you can be found in the show notes.
And… If you haven’t already taken my FREE beginners guide to productivity, then that is a great place to start with your own system. It will give you the ideas and know-how to creating a system for you built around some very strong principles. Again, you can find all the details for that in the show notes.
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 Isaac. Isaac asks: Hi Carl, I am really struggling to find any consistency in using my system. I like my system and it basically works well, but after using it for a week or two I find myself not using it and I start missing things. Is there anything I can do to stop falling off the wagon?
Great question, Isaac. I find a lot of people struggle with this one. They spend a lot of time creating a fantastic system and then after a few days or weeks stop collecting and organising and then quickly everything stops working.
Now, there are a few reasons why this might be happening. The most common one is creating an overly complex system.
You see there’s a lot of fun to be had in developing your own system. For many of us solving problems is fun and building your very own productivity system, choosing the apps to use, setting up the project folders, the collection methods and deciding how we will organise our project support materials is all part of the fun.
The problems start happening once we have built the system and start to use it in our day to day world. That's when we come up against reality and discover that what we originally thought would work well doesn't work so well and involves a lot of processing time. Now it’s no longer a lot of fun. Now it seems as though all we are doing is fixing problems and cracks which means we are still not as productive to better at using our time as we want to be.
Another part of becoming better organised and more productive is moving from our old habits and installing new ones. If you are not accustomed to collecting everything —writing everything down or collecting it into a digital to-do list manager and then processing it — it can be hard to get into the habit of spending the necessary ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to do that.
Likewise, if you are not planning your day before you finish, you are not instilling the right kind of habits you need to maintain your system.
It’s the installation of these habits that will ensure your system continues to work.
How long does that take? Well, that depends but a study by the University of London found that to install a new habit takes 66 days. So it is going to take you around two months of consistent practice and self-discipline to take your new system and have it running smoothly and consistently.
This is where you need to apply your most effort. Developing the right habits to make sure you are maintaining your system. Once the maintenance becomes a habit, then you will find everything works much better and you are much less likely to stop using your system.
Getting into the habit of collecting and organising every day is the best way to start. If you are not collecting everything, that’s where the first cracks in your system will open.
One of the best things you can do to begin with is to find the quickest way to collect something. Set up your phone so you can collect a task or an event or note in as few button presses as possible. If you use an iPhone set up Siri to collect for you too. The least resistance you have to collect something means you will collect everything. That’s the goal. When you process you can decide if you want to keep it or delete it.
Now that process will take longer if you keep changing your system or apps. As soon as you change an element in your collection, processing or organisation structure you will have a new habit to develop. If you are changing your apps, you will have another app to learn.
This is why I always recommend you focus on developing your system and not play around with too many apps. Learning to habitually follow a system is much easier than learning to use a new app.
When it comes to processing this is where you need your calendar’s help. For me, I schedule 9:30 to 10:00 pm to process every Monday to Thursday. I don’t need to process on a Sunday because I do my weekly review on a Sunday afternoon and on Friday’s and Saturday’s I don’t have too much coming in. I will often do a quick scan of my inboxes to see if there is anything I need to be aware of before my big weekly review on a Sunday, but generally, anything collected on a Friday and Saturday can wait until Sunday.
I do plan the day on a Friday and Saturday. Planning only takes a few minutes because all it involves in checking my calendar and reviewing my dated tasks for the day. I can do this in less than five minutes and as this is a habit for me it would feel very strange if I went to bed not knowing what I wanted to accomplish tomorrow.
Give yourself thirty minutes the end of the day to process and plan. Now you can either do this after you get home in the evening or you can do it before you leave your workplace. Both work very well. The advantage of doing it before you leave your workplace is you can leave work behind when you walk out the door at the end of the day. There’s something about finishing your work day by processing your inboxes, planning what you will work on tomorrow when you arrive and then closing down and leaving the office. It clears your mind and allows you to enjoy the evenings without having to worry about anything at work.
The key to making this work is you schedule it on your calendar. If you are doing it before you finish work, block the last thirty minutes of your day on your calendar. If you are delayed and find yourself stuck in a meeting at the end of the day, don’t use that as an excuse to not do your processing and planning. Just add an extra thirty minutes to your day. You will thank yourself for it later. If you choose to do your processing and planning when you get home in the evening, make sure you set it at a time you will not be disturbed. If you have young kids, for example, wait until they go to bed so you get yourself twenty to thirty minutes of peace and quiet to do it.
Your processing and planning time needs to become a part of who you are. It is something you just do. When you reach that stage, then you are never likely to fall off the wagon again. It is just something you do like brushing your teeth or taking a shower every day.
Now if you have just developed a new system, then there are going to be a few issues. Things you thought would work in theory don’t work in practice, or you find collecting or processing is taking too long—which can happen when you are just starting out—then you should re-evaluate your system. The truth is there are always some things that don’t work exactly how you want them to. When you find that, review and adjust. It does not mean you need to start all over again. Often you just need to make a few little adjustments.
If you find collecting ideas and commitments while working at your computer is cumbersome, then see if you can set up some keyboard shortcuts. Another one you could do is have a Chrome set up where your calendar, notes and to-dos are all conveniently open in tabs. This is a great way to get your information quickly and conveniently.
If you find yourself forgetting to do something—like planning or processing—set up a repeating to-do task to remind you to do it. Make sure you get the notifications to come up on your phone or computer.
There are a lot of different ways you can adjust things to make it all work seamlessly and this will be something you will need to do. But it never means you have to tear everything up and start over. All it means is you adjust and move.
So, there you go, Isaac. I hope that has given you some food for thought and will help you develop the right habits. Remember, it’s going to take a while to develop the habits and you will need to make some adjustments. That said, I can promise you if you stick with it and make the necessary little adjustments it will be worth it in the end.
Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Remember, if you have a question you would like answering all you need to do is email me - email@example.com or DM on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
What state do you find yourself in most days? Reactive or proactive? That’s the topic of this week’s question on the Working With Podcast.
Hello and welcome to episode 102 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week we are talking about your state and the state you find yourself working in most days. This is not something I find a lot of people think about much. Instead, most people try to get through the day as best they can hoping to survive without having too many issues erupt. Yet, it does not really have to be like that and this week I will explain why.
But before we get to that…
Don’t forget, if you want to gain access to some of my shorter courses, you can on the Skillshare platform.
If you are not familiar with Skillshare, Skillshare is a subscription-based learning centre where you pay a monthly subscription and have access to thousands of shortish courses. I learnt Adobe Indesign and iPhoneography on Skillshare a couple of years ago. It’s a fantastic place to learn about so many amazing things from coding, productivity, creativity and photography. It’s well worth a subscription.
And, if you use the link in the show notes you can get yourself 2 months of FREE access to Skillshare’s classes. You could learn a lot in 2 months and by signing up using the link here, you help me too. Now that sounds like an awesome deal.
So whatever it is you want to learn, Skillshare will have courses for you. Take a look and if you see something you like use the link in the show notes to get yourself two months of premium courses for free.
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 Rachael. Rachael asks, Hi Carl, I’m one of those people who reads everything they can about being more organised and efficient. The problem I have is I always feel I am behind and never on top of all my work and commitments. Is this normal or is there something I am not doing quite right?
Hi Rachael, thank you for your question.
I don’t think you are doing anything wrong at all. What is likely to be happening is you are finding out that no matter what you do, the work, commitments, decisions and interruptions never stop. That’s just the world we live in today. There’s always something else. I say “the world we live in today”, but in reality, all these commitments, decisions and interruptions have always been there. The difference today is it is difficult to compartmentalise them.
What I mean by that is before we were connected to the always-on world via our smartphones, tablets and laptops, work email could only be dealt with when we were at the office, so when we left the office for the day, that was it. Work was over and we could turn our attention to our personal lives. That does not happen today. Instead, today we are exposed to a constant stream of notifications, interruptions, news and requests and unless you set yourself some barriers, you will feel stressed out, over-worked and out of control.
If you do feel you are always behind, that is often a symptom of not being fully aware of the big picture of what’s going on in your world. One of the biggest benefits of taking some time each week to step back and really look at what you have going on in your life is you get to see where you are on the journey. How you are doing with the projects you are committed to at work and in your own personal life and how you are doing with your goals and objectives. This is what most people are not doing but if you are not doing that, how are you measuring your progress? How do you know where you are? Who’s controlling the timeline of your life? You or the many people you connect with personally and professionally?
Without that knowledge—knowing where you are with your projects and goals—then you will not be making the right decisions about what to work on next. You will be working on the things that are the loudest and most urgent, and all that does is create more loud and urgent tasks coming your way every day because you are reacting to the work rather than making intelligent decisions about the work you do each day in a proactive way.
Let me give you an example of this:
A reactive person waits for urgent email before taking action. The belief here is if it’s out of mind it’s out of sight. Now that may well be true, but while it is out of sight it is growing into a monster of a problem to deal with. Instead of a regular check-in on a project to make sure it is moving in the right direction and the right work is getting done, which would take five to ten minutes, you wait for the loud, urgent email screaming at you about how the customer is very unhappy because they are still waiting for their order to arrive. Now not only do you have to expedite the order—often costing a lot more money than had you processed the order in the normal way—you also have to deal with an angry customer, (and when you call them to explain, they can talk for a very long time) get everybody on your team working on this one crisis and your stress levels increase massively.
In all, what could have taken a few minutes two or three times a week, has caused you and the entirety of your team to lose a whole morning, rushing around dealing with a crisis that could have been averted and creating more little monsters because you did not have time to check those. It becomes a vicious circle. You deal with one crisis and another appears and on it goes.
Instead, if you shift to a more proactive state, you make sure you are aware of what is going on within all your open projects. Problem projects are carefully monitored and potential crises anticipated and steps are taken to minimise their impact on your work. This shift in state does not take a lot of work or time, and when it is done consistently, it will save you a huge amount of time because you will have a lot fewer crises to deal with.
So how do you make this shift in state? How do you go from being in a reactive state to a proactive state?
Well, the first step is to get yourself organised. You need to know where everything is so you can access whatever you need when you need it quickly. If you are using multiple filing systems you are creating monsters. You won’t remember where everything is. Ideally, have one single storage system. Where possible use a cloud storage service such as Google Drive, Apple iCloud or Microsoft OneDrive. If your company insists you use their storage system that’s okay. All your work-related files, documents and or digital stuff goes there. You can then have a personal storage system for your personal stuff.
Next up, start using your calendar properly. Make sure the calendar view you have contains all your commitments professional and personal. It is not very smart to try and run two entirely different calendars in the hope of creating a fictional separation of your work and personal life. You need to see your commitments and events for the whole day in one place. That way you will know if you will have the energy to perform all your commitments all day. If you see on your calendar that you are doing a workshop all day and you are the trainer, in the evening you plan to do two hours of cross-fit, you may find that you are asking a little too much of your body for one day. Instead, you could decide to drop the two-hour cross-fit session and do a one hour walk with your partner instead. The two-hour cross-fit session can be done on a different day in the week. Being in a proactive state allows you to see this kind of conflicts before they happen so you can take steps to reduce their impact on your mental and physical wellbeing.
Finally, do a process and review session before you close down the day. Process all the things you have collected that day, get them put into their rightful place and then review what you have scheduled and planned for tomorrow. Once you have done that, step back, relax and breathe. You know what you have to perform tomorrow, you know you have the time and you have the built-in flexibility to manage the unknown that will inevitably come up.
How much time does it take to keep yourself in a proactive state? About thirty minutes each day. That’s all it takes.
Those thirty minutes allow you enough time to review the important things, prevent little issues growing into uncontrollable monsters and helps you to stay focused on the important things—the things that will move you forward on your projects and your goals. Those thirty minutes allow you to stay in control of your time.
It’s not difficult. But just having the knowledge is not enough. You have to commit yourself to make this a daily habit. It is like when on a diet, you know eating the bowel of carrots will help you to lose weight, but you eat the chocolate cake instead. You will never lose weight that way. You know that, but people still eat the chocolate cake. Knowing is not enough. You have to use that knowledge to make better decisions and take action.
I hope that has helped, Rachael. Thank you so much for your question.
And thank you to you too for listening. This podcast is for you and I hope you are getting a lot from it. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering, then just get in touch either by email, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Do you have to have a productivity system? Well, that’s this week’s question and finding the right one for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 101 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.
I am frequently asked about my own productivity system and how to set things up the way I set them up. The problem here is that what works for me may not work for you.
They way I work, the way I think and the way I organise my files have been created over many years and are a result of all those things above plus the work I do. You will be different. Your work is different the way you think is different and your goals and objectives in life will be different.
In this week’s episode I answer a question about this and why it causes so many people to give up trying to organise their lives around a few simple systems.
Before we get in to this week’s question I want to say that if any of you are in the Skillshare learning programme, then many of my shorter courses are on Skillshare.
If you are not familiar with Skillshare, Skillshare is a subscription based learning centre where you pay a monthly subscription and have access to thousands of shortish courses. I learnt Adobe Indesign on Skillshare a couple of years ago. It’s fantastic place to learn about so many amazing things from coding, productivity, creativity and photography. It’s well worth a subscription.
And, if you use the link in the show notes you can get yourself 2 months of FREE access to Skillshare’s classes. You could learn a lot in 2 months and by signing up using the link here, you help me too. Now that sounds like an awesome deal.
So, help yourself and help me at the same time and get yourself signed up for Skillshare .
Okay, onto the question, and that means handing you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from James. James asks: Hi Carl, I love this podcast. My question is: all the various productivity experts tell us to follow this system or that system and I find it all confusing. Could you tell me which is the best productivity system to follow so I don’t have to keep experimenting?
Thank you, James, for your question. I completely understand how confusing things can get with so many bits of advice out there. A lot of the advice, and I have been guilty of this myself, pushes people towards a specific way of organising and managing their work. In reality, every one of us are different and what might work for me, and the way I think, is not necessarily going to work for everyone else.
This is one of the reasons why these days I show many different ways to manage Todoist and Evernote on my YouTube channel because there really are a multitude of different ways to manage your time and your work.
That said, there are also some fundamentals that if you skip, no amount of ways you organise your stuff will help. Those fundamentals are:
Collecting everything. If you not collecting your tasks, commitments and appointments into a trusted place then you will rely on your head to remember everything. Which means you won't remember everything. Relying on your head to remember everything is what leads to the feelings of overwhelm and stress. You brain does not know how to manage all those inputs. Are they short-term reminders? Long-term? Your brain does not know how to distinguish between these, so it will remind you to talk to your partner about next years summer holiday while you are on a stage pitching your latest product to four thousand prospective buyers.
Once you have collected everything, how you organise it matters. If you collect everything into just one list, soon that list will become huge and overwhelming to the point where you no longer want to look at it. When that happens the list become meaningless.
If nothing else you need a list for your work stuff and your home stuff. After that, how you organise it is really up to you. You might prefer to organise by your projects, areas of focus or context, tag or label. That’s really up to you.
After that, all you need focus on is doing the work. That’s why COD (Collect, Organise and Do) is just a framework. How you organise things inside that framework is up to you and that is important. The organising part needs to be unique to how you work.
If you are new to getting yourself better organised, experiment for a while. See what works best. From my coaching practice, I have learnt how we organise depends on how our brains are wired for this sort of thing. It’s part of my job, as a coach, to figure out the best way for you. A lot of that can be trial and error.
The good news is it is a lot of fun learning the best way.
I have one client where their to-do list is just a list of tasks and all their planning and task management happens on their calendar. Each day they select a few tasks from their to-do list manager, enter them on their calendar for the next 48 hours and manage everything from there.
Once a task has been allocated a day and time on their calendar, they remove the task from their to-do list manager. It works for them.
And that’s the key point here. “It works for them”.
What works for you?
I like to have my work organised into routines. I work better when I have a fixed schedule. That’s why my blog posts are written every Monday morning, my videos are recorded on a Friday afternoon and I record this podcast on a Sunday afternoon.
If my wife adopted my way of doing my work, she would hate it. My wife is much more impulsive than I am. She prefers to have a list of things to do and will do whatever she is in the mood for on that day. That works for her. That would stress me out.
Another area I find can be different is when we plan our days. Conventional wisdom would suggest planning the next day the evening before, it allows you to go to bed knowing exactly what you will start with the next day. This way you avoid wasting time when your brain is at its freshest trying to decide what to do.
However, for some people that does not work. They understand the concept but try as they might, their discipline and willpower at the end of the day are not there and they skip it. Making the switch to doing it first thing in the morning can fix that, once they switch they have no problem spending ten to twenty minutes planning their day.
This is one of the reasons why when you copy someone else's system you are likely to come up against a lot of problems. The way someone else works, even the type of work they do will always be different from you.
I don't get a lot of interruptions during the day and the work I do each week is reasonably consistent. Others—in the front line of customer service, for example—each day will be different with multiple issues to solve and a lot of interruptions. For someone in that situation using my system would very quickly find everything breaking around them. It just would not work.
In a highly disrupted environment trying to build a consistent schedule for your work would be futile. Instead, you need to develop a system that allows you to quickly access work that needs doing when you have some time available. In this situation, labels, tags or contexts (whatever you want to call them) work much better. So does having access to your files on all your devices. If a file you need is on your computer and not accessible from a tablet or phone, then you are not going to be able to work on that file if you are not at your computer.
Many of my coaching clients find blocking the final hour of their day off for focused, uninterrupted work valuable. What this means is you go and ‘hide’ somewhere where you will not be disturbed and get your focused work done for the day as well as your planning and cleaning up. For some, this means spending an extra hour at work, but the extra time spent on dealing with their backlog means they are much less stressed and don’t take their work home with them. So spending a little more time at work means they have the advantage that when they do get home they are able to spend more quality time with their family.
Alternatively, if you are a morning person, you could go in to work an hour earlier. There will be no customers bothering you at that time so you can catch up with focused work and your backlog. Again, it’s all about managing stress, overwhelm and backlog.
So, the bottom line, James, is you want to create a system that fits your way of working. This is not just for your to-do list manager, but for the way you file your documents and organise your notes. Other people’s way of doing things can give you a few ideas, but it’s you who will have to use your system so you need to be making sure that your system works for your way of thinking and way of working.
Remember the foundations don’t change. You need to be collecting everything that needs collecting and not trusting that your brain will remember. Once collected you should organise what you collected in a way that will show up when you need it to show up in a way that works for you and finally you need to be doing the work that matters when it matters.
I hope that has helped, James and then you for your question.
Thank you to all of you for listening too. Without you and your fantastic questions, this podcast would not exist. Don’t forget, if you want to help me, please sign up for a FREE two-month Skillshare account using the link in the show notes and at the same time help yourself you some amazing learning.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
This week’s podcast is the 100th episode. So to celebrate this milestone, I have a rather special episode for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 100 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 want to tell you all about what I learned from Tony Robbins’ Unleash The Power Within seminar, conference, event. Last week, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to attend this event and I picked up a lot of tips and knowledge around getting maximum performance in every we do.
From a productivity perspective, I want to share some of those tips with you.
Before I get in to that though, we now have less than four months before the end of the year and if you are serious about turning 2020 and beyond in to your most successful year (and decade) then now is the time to begin thinking about what you want to change, what you want to accomplish and who you want to become. I put together an Evernote tutorial on my YouTube channel last week that takes you through six very powerful questions that will guide towards achieving a fantastic result. Even if you are not using Evernote, you will still find the video useful and you will be able to download the question sheet. The questions sheet is also available for free on my website. Links to both these are in the show notes.
And if you are ready to take your productivity, and goals, to the next level of performance, then I have also put my three-month coaching programme on special offer. You can now get three months of coaching for just $295.00 (saving yourself $75.00) With this coaching you will get me guiding you through your goals and helping you to set up the right workflow to make sure when the new year begins you start it with purpose and intention and start achieving your goals right from day one.
All the details for my coaching programmes are again, in the show notes.
The Mystery Podcast voice is having a week off this week as there is no question to answer.
So, what did I learn from Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within?
The first thing I learnt—and this comes up on day one and two—is that motion = emotion. What does that really mean? Well, let me ask you a question. Have you ever been sat down for a few hours without moving? You know, just sat down, either in a car on a long journey or perhaps mindlessly watching TV? How much energy do you have? Very little. You will probably find you are not ‘in the mood’ to do very much. That’s because your body has slowed down. Your mind and body work together and so when your body does not move neither does your mind.
To change that—to change your state—all you have to do is move. Now of course if you have been sat down for a long time that is a lot easier said than done, but if you want to instantly change your mood, give yourself instant energy, then get up and move. If you can, dance—put on some lifting music and just dance for a few minutes. You will find almost immediately your mood changes, it lifts and when you are in a positive mood, you will make better decisions and you will feel a lot more positive.
I know that all sound very simple—it is—but it really does work. This is why your best decisions will always be made when you are moving. I remember nearly eighteen years ago, I made the decision to come to Korea while playing with my dog in the local park. I was moving. Prior to that day, I had spent weeks thinking about it and not really making any decision. That moment of movement was where I made possibly the best decision of my life so far. I know it works.
And if you really want to change your mood, then you need “Ass-ti-tude”. I’ve linked to a video in the show notes that will teach you all about that.
Another thing that really resonated with me was the “Pyramid of Mastery”. This came up on day three and what it means is you have seven areas of your life that need to master in order to have a great life. These are:
Physical - your physical fitness, health and vitality. (There’s that ‘energy’ again)
Emotion and meaning - if you are not controlling your emotions, then your emotions are controlling you. You need to be developing habits that put you in a positive mood every day.
Relationships - if your relationships are not strong, then you are not going to be able to perform at your best. Your broken relationships will weigh on your mind. Fixing your broken relationships needs to be a priority.
Time - You need to be in charge of your time and not allow others to control what you do each day. Mastering your time, learning to say no and giving yourself quality “me-time” each day is a must.
Career and mission - If you are not happy with your career and your mission in life you should be re-evaluating why you are doing what you are doing. What is your purpose? If your career (and life’s mission) are not motivating you, then you either need to reassess why you are doing what you are doing or you need to change careers completely.
Finances - I suppose this is an obvious one. If you are worried about your financial health, finding you have too much month at the end of your salary, then this will put a huge burden on your emotional strength.
And finally, Contribution and spirituality Fulfillment does not come from achieving your goals. Fulfilment comes from who you become in attaining your goals and what you give back to the world. When you are giving, your spirit is placed into a positive state. When you are taking you never quite feel right.
That, for me, was powerful stuff and I have already begun the process of building my goals around these seven areas of mastery for next year. And if you follow me on YouTube, then you will find a number of videos this week where I show you how you can build these seven areas into your daily routines.
There were two other big things I learned and have already implemented into my daily routines. The first is my nutrition. Now, I’ve always been pretty good with nutrition, but I learned the value of eating a more alkaline based diet to help keep my health strong and energy high. And I also learned about priming. Priming is where you give yourself ten to fifteen minutes in the morning to prepare yourself for the day ahead. It’s a form of meditation, where you essentially put yourself in a positive state. On the Tony Robbins blog, you can find a lot more information about this as well as a guided video. I would highly recommend you incorporate this into your daily life. Again, I have linked to that in the show notes.
Would I recommend Unleash The Power Within? Absolutely! I’ve been on a lot of workshops and courses in my time, but nothing comes close to this one. UPW (as we call it) changes lives. It’s highly energetic, at times emotional and the music played will stick with me for life (I’ve already created a playlist!)
And finally… The firewalk. Did I do it? Absolutely! Did I learn anything from it? Definitely. The purpose of doing the firewalk is to show us that when we get control of our mindset, focus and physical self, we can achieve almost anything. To do the firewalk we are shown how to put ourselves in to “state” that place where we are determined, focused, certain and ready to do something we have previously feared. When you take that “state” out into your own world, a lot of things can change for you.
The confidence generated from the firewalk is incredible and it is something that will live on in me for the rest of my life.
Before I finish I would like to say a huge thank you to all of you. This is the 100th episode of this podcast and we recently went past 100 thousand downloads. That’s an incredible achievement for a less than two-year-old podcast. So thank you so much to all of you for making that happen. I do these podcasts for you and I feel so grateful that I get the chance to serve you each and every week.
Thank you also to all of you who have sent in your questions. Your questions are the lifeblood of this podcast and it is what makes it what it is. So, I want you all to reach over your head and pat yourself on the back. You are all incredible and in the words of Joseph McClendon III… “You Freaking Rock!”
Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast, just send me an email or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. I’d love to answer your questions.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Are you spending too much time planning each day and not enough time doing? That’s the question for this week’s podcast.
Hello and welcome to episode 99 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week we have a question about time spent planning and reviewing. It’s a great question to follow up on last week’s podcast.
But before we get into this week’s question, as we are now getting close to the end of 2019 and the start of 2020, now would be a great time to begin thinking about what you want to accomplish in the next decade. That’s right, I did say a decade. We are about to start the 2020s and that gives us a fantastic opportunity to think about what we would like to achieve over the next ten years.
I am reminded of a saying Tony Robbins repeats and that is “most people over-estimate what they can accomplish in a year and under-estimate what they can accomplish in a decade”.
If you want to create a life that brings you joy, happiness and prosperity then you can. But it does start with knowing exactly what it is you want. Figuring out what changes you need to make to the way you live your life today to achieve that goal and then taking the necessary action to make it happen.
If you haven’t taken my Time And Life Mastery 3 course yet, now would be a great time to do so. The course is designed perfectly for the next decade as it guides you through the process of discovering exactly what you want, then shows you how to build motivation and momentum to do the right tasks and build the right habits so that each day you move that little bit close.
Now is the time to plant the seeds for the life you want and Time And Life Mastery 3 will guide you all the way. Details of the course 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 Adriana. Adriana asks, Hi Carl, I sometimes feel I am spending so much time planning that I do not have enough time to do my work each day. How much time do you spend planning each day and what do you plan?
Thank you for your question, Adriana. I’ve always been curious about how long it takes people to do their daily and weekly planning. I did ask David Allen how long it took him to do his weekly review, but he rather diplomatically didn't answer the question.
The truth is it depends. If you’ve been away on a business trip for a week and have not had a moment to yourself throughout the trip, your planning and reviewing when you get back is likely to take a while. If you are at home, doing your normal daily routines, then it should not be taking you too long. Ten to twenty minutes for a daily review and plan and around forty to fifty minutes for a weekly review.
What I discovered was if you skimp on the weekly review, that will have a knock-on effect with your daily planning. If you are not entirely confident you have all the right tasks scheduled to show up when they need to show up, you are going to be wasting time in the week double-checking your projects to make sure you haven't missed anything. That’s almost like having to do a full weekly review every day. If that's happening then you are spending too much time planning.
Let’s look at what’s involved in a daily review. First, clear your to-do list’s inbox. Get tasks into their right projects, add labels and dates if they need to be done this week—or before your next weekly review—and then review what you have planned for tomorrow against your calendar.
Things change during the week. New meetings and appointments could have been added so you do need to make sure you haven't overloaded your day with too many tasks and appointments.
Now if you’re following the 2+8 Prioritisation technique, you would now select your two objectives for the day and the eight other tasks you want to complete tomorrow and then you’re done.
In total, that should not be more than ten to fifteen minutes.
The rest of the time you should be doing your work.
Now if it is taking you longer than that, Adriana, then take a look at how you are doing your weekly review. I find most problems with planning and reviewing start here.
The weekly review is about getting clear—that means clearing your inboxes, making sure your projects are up to date and it’s about deciding what you will work on next week. For the things you want to (or need to) work on next week, you date the necessary tasks so they come up when you want to see them.
Remember, this is a weekly review and if you are consistently doing a weekly review you only need to add dates to tasks for the following week. Anything that does not need doing next week should not have a date unless a particular task has to be done on a specific date because you will be reviewing all your tasks again at the next weekly review.
By only dating tasks one week ahead, you will avoid task overwhelm and you will maintain a lot more control over what you are doing each day. Of course, any new tasks you collect that need to be done before your next weekly review should be dated. If it doesn’t, don't date it just drop it into its appropriate folder.
This is where a lot of issues arise. When you have a lot of tasks with what I call “wishful dates” on them—tasks that do not really need to be done that day—then you will spend a disproportionate amount of time each day rescheduling tasks. Now, I know why people put ‘wishful dates’ on tasks, it’s because they do not trust their system. The reason for not trusting a system is because a proper, consistent weekly review is not being completed. It’s like a vicious circle. People claim they do not have time for a weekly review, yet by not doing a weekly review they spend more time having to reorganise their to-do lists every day. It’s a false economy. Do the weekly review and you will spend less time during the week having to reschedule and plan your days. Trust me on this one, I’ve been there, made that mistake and learned a valuable lesson. A good, consistent weekly review means I can spend more time doing during the week safe in the knowledge that what I am working on are the right things that will move me forward on my current projects and areas of focus.
If you add up the total time spent each week on planning then you are looking at, say, fifty minutes for a weekly review and twenty minutes per day for your daily planning. That’s around three and a half hours per week. If you work a forty-hour week, then you are looking at just over 10% of your work time each week spent on planning. That’s a good ratio.
For me personally, I have my daily planning down to around ten minutes per day and because I do a weekly review every week, my weekly review takes about forty minutes. I know which projects need careful reviewing and which project just need a cursory glance. I also know which projects don’t need reviewing on a week to week basis. That’s what happens when you get consistent. Planning and processing times drop.
My whole COD system (that’s Collect, Organise, Do) is based on the idea that you spend around 90% of your day doing and roughly 10% of your time planning and processing. If you haven’t taken the free course yet, then there’s a link to the course in the show notes.
Email can cause a few problems here. If your work is heavily email dependent, you may find you need to spend a little more time processing. However, email just needs attending to—keeping your inbox clear as much as you can and separating out actionable email into an “action today” folder. Just make sure you clear out your action today folder every 24 to 48 hours. Try to resist the temptation to forward email to your to-do list manager. All that does is clog up your inbox and create duplication. Instead, just create a repeating task to remind you to clear your action today folder in your email. That way you do not have to keep switching between apps. However, that said, replying to actionable emails is doing work, it’s not planning or reviewing.
Hopefully, this answers your question, Adriana. Really it comes down to making sure to give yourself fifty minutes or so at the end of the week to do a good weekly review. Add dates to the tasks you know you need to do the following and remove any dates from tasks that do not need doing. You can always add a label or tag to tasks you would like to do such as ‘next actions”, so on days where you have been brilliantly productive, you can move into that label or tag and start working on some of those.
Then at the end of each day, give yourself fifteen to twenty minutes to process your inbox and plan your day for tomorrow. Once done, sit back, relax and have a wonderful night’s sleep.
Thank you for your question and thank you again, to all of you for listening. It is such a wonderful pleasure to be able to put these podcasts together for you each week.
And if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, just send me an email - email@example.com or you can DM me on Facebook or Twitter.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
“I don’t have time”, “There aren’t enough hours in the day”, “I’m busy”. Do you use these phrases regularly? If so, then this week’s episode of the Working With… Podcast is for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 98 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week we are returning to the question of time, and how to manage your time on a daily basis. I know so many people really struggle with this, yet there are a few things you can do to reduce your feelings of stress, overwhelm and that feeling of busyness.
But before we get to this week’s question, for those of you in the UK—or anywhere really—the Life and Time Mastery workshop is returning to Scunthorpe on the 28th December.
This workshop is going to be very special. We are calling it “Life and Time Mastery - the 2020 Edition - Start Fast. Start Strong” and its single purpose is to help you to set yourself up for the best decade you have ever had.
So if you are in the UK and want the opportunity to visit the wonderful Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe, spend a day with some incredibly energised, positive and amazing people plus Kevin Blackburn—a regular guest on this podcast—and myself, get yourself registered soon. Places are limited and they are selling out very fast.
It would be fantastic to meet you in Scunthorpe in December. AND… There might even be a possibility to meet this show’s mystery podcast voice. Now there’s a fantastic reason to join us.
Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s now time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Jake. Jake asks: Carl, I know you talk a lot about the 2+8 Prioritisation system and I do understand it, but I have so much to do each day, I really can’t cope. There’s no time for me to block time off for focused work and even thinking about working on my goals is a joke. Is here anything you can suggest that will help?
Thank you for your question, Jake.
Okay, let’s start with time. Everybody gets the same amount of time each day. Twenty-four hours. Some people can get an amazing amount done in that time, while others struggle and seem to be always telling everyone who will listen how busy they are.
So if we start with the premise that we all have the same amount of time, the only variable is what we are doing in those twenty-four hours.
Let me tell you a little secret. The way to get the most out of the time you have available is to get realistic about what you can achieve.
If you have a complex 100 plus slide presentation to create, you are never going to do that in one day. Not if you accept that throughout the day you will get interrupted and distracted. It just isn't going to happen. Take a typical Apple keynote presentation, for example, we know, from the books that came out following the death of Steve Jobs, that one of those presentations took around six months to prepare. And in the two weeks leading up to the keynote, a team of people were spending all the time they had available putting the finishing touches to it.
So, if you have a project as big as an important two-hour presentation, you are going to need more than a week to prepare it. If you are the kind of person who leaves those kinds of tasks until the last minute then sure you are going to feel busy and overwhelmed, yet those feelings are entirely of your own making.
What you have to understand is that a lot of the work you have to do, if you want to do the work properly, will need more than a day to do so you need to spread out your work. Short sprints over a longer period of time will result in better performance and a lot less stress.
Here’s a trick I do. At the end of every day, I look at my calendar not just at tomorrow but for the rest of the week. I am looking for days that have filled up with appointments and comparing that with my task list for the rest of the week. I spend around ten minutes each day, just getting a big picture view of my week and making sure no day is overloaded with too many appointments and tasks.
If I do find I have a day with too many appointments and tasks, I will re-schedule some of those tasks to quieter days. Or remove the non-urgent tasks altogether from that week. I’ve even been known to re-schedule less important appointments. If I have a couple of quiet days and three busy days, I will do as much as I can of my bigger project work on those quieter days. Just getting those big tasks started is often all that is needed to keep the overwhelm and stress at bay.
In a way, you need to develop the mindset of protecting your time.
Let me ask you a question... do you have the courage to schedule rest time? I ask that because I’ve seen people try and work through an enormous amount of work and meetings only to find their effectiveness becomes so bad they end up having to redo a lot of the work they did when they were exhausted because of all the mistakes in there.
When I ask them about rest periods, they tell me their client, customer or boss “needs” it tomorrow morning. When pushed, they usually confess that they could ask their client, boss or whoever if they could send it later that day and almost always they would be allowed to. The reason they don’t is that they are afraid that they may be told no. Part of getting in control of your available time is asking for and setting realistic deadlines. If you don’t have the courage to ask, then you only have yourself to blame.
If you think you can do a week’s worth of twenty-hours a day and get yourself on top of your work you are deluding yourself. You won't. You would get far more work done if you just did five or six hours of concentrated focused work each day.
Never be afraid to schedule some rest time. An extra hour of sleep will do far more for your effectiveness than trying to work an eighteen hour day.
So, what else can you do?
One of the most powerful ways of getting in control of your time is to begin the day knowing what it is you want to get accomplished. And when I say knowing what you want to get accomplished I mean in a realistic sense.
One of the most common reasons for feeling overwhelmed and stressed is setting unrealistic expectations. When you fill your day with appointments and tasks something will break, usually, that will be you. Your discipline will fail, you’ll look at your list of things to do and no matter how determined you are to get everything done, either you will run out of time or your resolve will break at some point in the day.
The truth is there is a limited amount you can effectively do each day. We are living human beings. We are not machines. You will get tired as the day goes by and your ability to focus will reduce. This is something you really need to understand if you want to become more effective and productive. And no matter how super-human you think you are, you are still a human being and you are not as super-human as you think you are.
One thing we can all do is to find where our optimum is. What I mean by this is where the point at which our effectiveness begins to reduce.
In my case, I know I am good for around 2,000 written words each day or roughly four hours of concentrated work. If I try and do more than that, while I can do it, my effectiveness diminishes and I end up having to rewrite those extra words the next day or redo a lot of the work I did. Not very efficient.
A recent similar example of this occurred with my exercise schedule. Over the last six months, I have been exercising very intensely. Each week I have pushed myself harder. Last weekend I ran 5 miles - no big deal, except I haven't done much running over the last few months. Instead, I have focused more on circuit training—that’s the old fashioned name for CrossFit—so naturally, as I was unwisely pushing myself through the last mile, I felt a pain in my Achilles' tendon. Then the following day as I was pushing myself towards the end of a bench press session, I felt a sharp pain in my neck. The following two or three days I was walking around with a limp and a stiff neck. Why? I pushed myself too hard and did not take enough rest. I was not able to exercise at all for three days. How effective was my exercise? Had I reduced the intensity a little, got enough rest, I would have been able to exercise those three days instead of feeling frustrated.
Remember you are human. There’s a limit you can do each day and when you go beyond that limit something will break and that is more likely to be you. You are not indestructible.
Your most effective tool at managing your workload is your calendar. Your calendar does not lie. It has those twenty-four hours on it each day. You can add your meetings and appointments and you can schedule blocks of time to get your work done. If you adopt a policy of ‘what goes on my calendar, gets done’ then this will work incredibly effectively. If you start to ignore what's on your calendar then you will soon find yourself stressed, over-worked and overwhelmed.
Here’s a trick I use with my calendar. If someone asks for a meeting I always reply “I’ll check my calendar and let you know later.” I could very easily look at my calendar on my phone right there and then and give an answer, but I want to see the big picture of my work before I commit to a meeting. I want to see where I am before and after the suggested meeting time and I want to know how much work I have on at that time. I cannot do that if I am forced to make a decision there and then.
Don’t be so quick to confirm an appointment. Be more deliberate with your scheduling and you’ll find you will soon become much less stressed and overwhelmed.
SO there you go, Jake, I hope some of these tips have helped you. Remember, you are a human being and there is a limit on what you can do each day. Be deliberate with the work you choose to do, make sure it has the biggest impact on your projects and try to schedule enough time each day for rest. You will get far more done if you are rested and not fatigued.
Thank you for your question and again, I thank you all for listening. If you have a burning question you would like answering on this show, then please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to answer it for you.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
The weekly review. Are you consistently doing one? If not you might just be missing out on the one thing that will elevate your productivity to the next level
Hello and welcome to episode 97 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week, we have a question about the weekly review. Should you be doing one every week and would a daily review be more effective?
But before we get to that as we are heading towards the end of the year—there are only four months left—now would be the right time to get yourself set up for the new year which this year will be the start of a new decade.
So more than ever before, starting the year right is going to be crucial if you want the next decade to be the best decade you’ve ever had in terms of your finances, your life pursuits and goals.
To help you, I have a bundle of courses designed exactly for you to help you build the right goals, have the right systems in place and to have a plan in place ready to hit the year not just running be at a sprint.
So I urge you to take a look at my Pathway To A Productive Life bundle, take the courses over the next four months and be ready to start 2020 with the right plan and the right system for you. This bundle includes, From Disorganised to a Productive Life, Your Digital Life 2.0 and Time and Life Mastery 3. And all for an amazing price of just $145.00. That’s a tiny investment to set yourself up for an amazing decade.
Okay, on to this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Angela. Angela asks, Hi Carl, I keep hearing that it is important to do a weekly review every week, but I am so busy, the last thing I want to do is look at my to-do list on a weekend. Do I really need to do a weekly review or would a daily review, say Monday to Friday, be okay?
Hmmm okay, where do we start with this one?
One of the biggest parts to becoming better organised and more productive with your time is knowing what needs doing and by when. This is where the weekly review comes in. It is the part of your week where you can sit down with no distractions or interruptions and for around forty-five minutes go through all your projects and tasks to see what needs doing. It gives you a big picture view of everything you have going on in your life.
You see, without that big-picture view, you are going to miss something. A project deadline will get missed, a task does not get done when it should be done, an important call not made when you said you would make it and your partner’s birthday gets forgotten. None of these things is nice, but that’s what happens when you miss your weekly review. It might not happen every week, but over time these things will happen.
Another reason for doing a weekly review is it puts you back in control of your time. It’s when we don't know what’s coming up and when - that makes us feel overwhelmed and stressed out. We feel out of control and that is not good for your productivity or your health.
So when should you do your weekly review? Well, that depends on you. What you are looking for is around one hour where you will be uninterrupted. You will need your computer for this too. I’ve tried doing it on my mobile phone in the past but found the limited screen size does not allow me to see the big picture—my calendar and to-do list next to each other for example.
For me, Sunday afternoon, after I finish exercising, is the best time. I am relaxed and I’ve completed my admin work for the week. I sit down at my desk, turn on some fantastic music and with a nice cup of Yorkshire Tea, I clear all my inboxes.
And that’s an important point. Part of what makes the weekly review so effective is it gives you time to—in the words of David Allen—“get clear”. What that means is you have made decisions about all the tasks you have in your inbox and they are organised where they need to be organised.
This also goes for your email and notes. Get all the inboxes clear. There’s nothing better than to start the week with cleared out inboxes.
Now a word of advice here, your weekly review is about reviewing, organising and clearing inboxes. It is not about doing. I wouldn't even apply the two-minute rule here either. The goal is to get clear and to decide what work needs to be done next week. The time spent on your weekly review is never about doing work it’s always about getting clear and having everything processed and organised. Of course, if you have time once everything is clear, do some of those 2-minute tasks.
Part of the reason you will feel busy, Angela, is because you have not identified what is important and what needs doing throughout the week. Not doing a weekly review means you are going to be reactive throughout the week as opposed to being proactive.
And that’s another reason why you should be doing a weekly review, it puts you into a proactive state. Without a complete review of what you have, what you are committed to and what deadlines you have coming up, you are going to be starting the week in a reactive state and that reactive state is where all the stress, overwhelm and feelings of being busy are.
It is far better to begin the week, knowing exactly what you want to get accomplished and what needs to be done that week. You know where you need to be and with who and the decisions about what is going to be done, and when, have been made.
I’ve seen it time and time again where someone hasn't done a weekly review they waste all of Monday morning trying to work out what to do next. When you have done a complete weekly review, you know exactly what you will do on Monday morning and by lunchtime, you could easily have completed 25% of your objectives for the week.
So where do you start when you are doing a weekly review?
Again, this is entirely up to you, but as a starter, start with your inboxes. Go through your to-list inbox and process. Organise your tasks into their projects or areas of focus. Then move on to your email inbox and do the same. Process. Move emails to their appropriate folders and if there are emails you need to reply to move them to an action folder. Again, I should stress don’t do the replies, even if they will take only a few minutes. Now is not the time to be doing. Now is about getting clear.
Finally, once you have your to-do list manager and email processed move on to your notes app and clear that inbox. Delete old notes you no longer need and then make sure you don’t have any scraps of paper lying around with notes and to-does on them. Make sure you check any notebooks you use for action items and notes.
Once all your inboxes are clear, it’s time to go through all your projects in your inbox. Go through each one individually and with your calendar open at next week’s view, identify which tasks in your projects can be done next week.
Now, I don’t usually date tasks beyond the following week unless they do need to be done on a specific date. Randomly dating tasks just creates daily lists of tasks that don’t really need doing that day. Instead, I add a label to the very next task without a date in each project called “next actions”. This means on days when I have been particularly productive, I can move into my next actions label and start working on those tasks.
Now, that’s just a basic overview of how I do the weekly review, the key thing here is you develop your own weekly review method. Everyone is different and everyone has different priorities. You will find you will modify how you do the weekly regularly, but eventually, you will settle on a way of doing it that works for you. The important thing is that you consistently do it week after week. It should never be a chore. It should be something you look forward to doing each week. It’s like setting the reset button on your week. For me, it nicely ends the week and leaves me feeing relaxed, in control and ready for the week ahead.
Now, you mentioned a daily review, Angela, and that is a good idea. But the daily review is just to make any adjustments to your weekly plan. Our weeks rarely go to plan and new priorities will come up from time to time. This is why I do my Golden 10 every evening. This is just ten minutes at the end of the day where I review my tasks for tomorrow and make sure they are still relevant. Last week, I did a video on how I do this and I will leave a link in the show notes for you to watch that. It’s only ten minutes and will give you a complete picture of how a daily review should go.
Now I should warn you, the first few times you do the weekly review properly, it will take you longer than one hour. But as time goes by and you develop a more efficient system for doing it, you will get faster. For me, it takes around forty to fifty minutes. I also know which project folders don’t need reviewing every week. Folders such as my routines and Someday | Maybe folders don’t need a review every week. I would normally review these once every two or three months.
Okay, so there you have it Angela, the case for doing a weekly review. The biggest reason for doing it is it gives you clarity, peace of mind and ensures you are working on the things that are important to you. It gives you a plan and it makes sure you are not missing anything.
I hope that has answered your question, Angela. Thank you and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering, just email me at email@example.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter.
It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week.
Are you finding your projects list overwhelming? Then this week’s podcast is just for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 96 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 question is all about managing an overwhelming projects list. A projects list that keeps moving, changing and growing. The problem here is not actually with your projects list but rather the way you are thinking about your whole system.
But before we get to this week’s question, I’d just like to remind you about my current coaching offer’s imminent end. It’s true, my coaching programme’s summer offer will be ending this week. Right now you can sign up for the programme for just $99 and if you wish to continue you can save yourself up to $300 on any of my longer programmes.
I know from my own personal experience how a coach can change your outcomes. As a teenager, I was a pretty useful middle-distance runner. But before I discovered that, a teacher at my school saw me running in a cross country race and recommended I get a coach. He saw something in me I did not see, I guess, but I decided to do just that. I got a coach.
Very quickly my running got better, my speed endurance improved and my race tactics became sharper and more focused. That was because there was now someone guiding me, encouraging me and making small incremental changes to the way I trained and the way I ran races.
I learned that if you want to perform at your best, you cannot do it alone. To get the best out of yourself you need a coach. Someone on the outside who can help you improve your technique. To hold you accountable when you try to take shortcuts and to keep you focused on the goal.
So as we head towards the end of this decade and the start of a new decade, now would be the right time to get yourself a coach. Someone to look at your current system and give you guidance, strategies and methods to improve your overall set up so you can start the new decade Sharpe, focused and motivated to make it the best decade of your life.
All the details of what you get in the programme 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 Dinh Hai. Dinh Hai asks: Hi Carl. I have lots of projects running at the same time. I am having trouble keeping track of all of them. I use Todoist and Evernote quite regularly. Do you have any ideas on managing multiple projects at the same time?
Thank you, Dinh Hai, for the question.
Okay, I think we need to go back to basics here. Whether you are using a pure GTD set up that is operating through contexts (people, place or tool) or you have your own setup, a project folder is just a list of tasks related to a single outcome. Unless you decided to work on a single project all day to the exclusion of everything else, then you are never likely to be working from your project folders. So the number of projects you have going on at any one time is not relevant.
Ultimately, what you do each day is controlled not by the number of projects you have but by the time you have available to do the tasks associated with those projects. You only have 24 hours—the same as everyone else.
We normally work from a daily list of tasks we have decided we want to do today or we are working from a list of tasks that we can only do given where we are, who we are with or what tools we have available.
If we did not have these project placeholders, our inboxes would become a very long list of unrelated tasks and ultimately become overwhelming. That’s why we need a way to categorise and organise our tasks. Whether you do that by project or context doesn't really matter.
So, the only decision you have to make is what will you do today? That is really the only thing you can decide.
Let’s say you have eight hours to do your work today. So the time available is already decided. The decision you need to make is what will you do during those eight hours? If you receive an email that you know will require two or three hours of work, you need to decide whether you will use two to three of your eight hours today to do that task or spend one hour today and one hour tomorrow. That’s the only decision you can make on that work. Of course, you may have the option to delegate or even not do it at all, but it really does not matter where you put that task. What matters is when will you do it?
I think sometimes we overthink our productivity systems and make them far more complicated than they need to be. What it comes down to is how much time do you have to complete your tasks and what tasks will you do in that time?
Now, of course, those decisions will likely be based on time sensitivity—when something is due—and perhaps who gave you the work to do. But those are entirely different decisions to make. The daily decisions you are making are based on what work you will do today given the amount of time you have available.
This is why your calendar should be a big part of your overall productivity system. Your calendar is going to tell you where you are meant to be, what meetings and appointments you have and how much available time you have to do your tasks.
Let me give you an example.
Wednesdays are currently busy teaching days for me. I have five hours of teaching from 8 AM to 6:30 PM. If my working day is between 8 AM and 7 PM that gives me eleven hours of work time. In that time, I will need to find the five hours for teaching—which is fixed, time to eat lunch, exercise, respond to emails and messages and get my daily admin done. I will also need to be aware of the travel time to get to the classes I will teach, which will involve another two to three hours. This means every Tuesday evening when I do my daily planning, I can see there is going to be little or to time for specific project work.
What I will do is see that I have two to three hours of travel time. That essentially is dead time. I travel by public transport to these classes so the question is what work can I do on my phone while I am travelling? For me, that means responding to emails and messages and writing. That’s it. I cannot design a presentation, record a video or podcast. All I can do is do work related to communication and writing.
So, as I am planning my day, I can go into my “writing” and “communication” labels in Todoist and look for work that can be done while I am travelling, assign tomorrow’s date to the task and I am good to go.
This means when I begin my day, the only tasks on my task list for the day are tasks I can do based on where I will be and the available time I have.
This is why spending ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day looking at your calendar and to-do list planning what you will work on tomorrow is important if you truly want to become more productive. The weekly review is where you make decisions on what you want to accomplish next week and gives you an opportunity to get your projects and other lists cleaned up and current, but it is the daily planning and review where you plan out what you will do the next day.
Now, I know a lot of people feel everything is important, everything needs to be done right now and they are so much busier than anyone else. The reality though is quite different. Everyone has the same amount of time each day and unless you are working on an assembly line cranking out identical widgets all day, you have some degree of flexibility to decide what you will work on next.
It does not matter how many projects you have or how many tasks are in those projects, you are constrained by the amount of time available and what type of work you can do based on where you are, what you have with you and who you are with. I would add another factor too—how much energy you have. If you are sick, suffering from a lack of sleep or just exhausted, your effectiveness at doing your work is not going to be great.
Now you cannot change the laws of physics or the laws of time. You are never going to be able to turn 24 hours into 30 hours. So stop trying to do that. That is just a waste of energy. Instead, work on the things you can affect. That means looking at your calendar, seeing where the gaps are between meetings, training courses, appointments, eating and sleeping and deciding what you will work on from your projects list in that available time.
Get better at prioritising and planning. Learn to say “no” to new commitments that do not excite you and get enough rest. And remember, none of these tips will be of use to you if you are exhausted and have no energy to do the work you want to do.
As I keep saying, becoming better organised and more productive is simple. Doing it is a lot harder, but it’s not impossible. The choice you have to make is between trying to do everything at once and accomplishing very little, or being more strategic and planning out the day ahead with a clear mind and intention in a well-rested state. With those, you can accomplish a lot more in a lot less time.
Well, I hope that has helped you Dinh Hai, I know it is hard to prioritise and get everything you have to do in perspective, but remember we cannot change the laws of time and we can only do what we can do in the time we have available each day.
Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. I am so grateful to all of you because we have, or will have, reached 100,000 downloads of this podcast. I am humbled to be able to help so many people to become better organised and more productive. Thank you all so so much. I want you to know I do this for you and I have no plans to stop doing what I do.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Has your system has become overly complex and unwieldy over the years? This week’s podcast is all about getting back to basics.
Hello and welcome to episode 95 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.
Over the years you have probably read all the productivity books, read countless blog posts and watched hundreds of productivity and time management videos. The result? You have created a monster. An overly complex hierarchy of projects, tags and apps that requires so much daily attention there is little time left to actually do the work you want to do.
If that describes you, and you may have to get really honest with yourself to answer that question, then this week’s question is for you.
Now don’t worry this happens to us all and it is quite simple to fix it, but it may involve letting go of some of your shiny toys and that can hurt. But, as they say, “no pain, no gain” and that is what this week’s answer is all about - showing you how to gain more time to focus on what really matters to you.
Now, before we get in to this week’s question, if you have tried over and over again to create a system that works for you, but still feel you have too much stuff to do and don’t know where to start, or you want to start your own business, podcast, blog or YouTube channel and just want some advice on where to start and how to build a successful side business, then take a look at my coaching programmes.
These programmes are designed to give you guidance, help and advice to get moving in the right direction. My programmes have helped hundreds of people find a system that works for them, have built side-businesses, blogs and podcasts that are growing.
Programmes start at $99 and the 3, 6 and 12-month programmes are on special offer right now. To find out more, I have put a link into the show notes.
Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it is time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Terry. Hi Carl, I’ve been a productivity nerd for over twenty years now and have read every book I have found on time management and productivity. The problem is I have taken tips and tricks from so many places and downloaded loads of apps, I find I spend so much time updating my to-do list and notes app. I don’t have time to finish all the work I want to finish each day. Do you have any advice to help me get more work done
Hi Terry, thank you for your question. I think this is a problem many people have.
It’s very easy, over the years, to collect new ways and apps for doing things. We read an article about mind mapping and get ourselves an app like MindNode to do mind mapping. We watch a video on creating a Kanban type board of all our projects and start using Asana or Trello and then we get sucked into the hype surround apps like Notion that promise to be all things. We read about a new way of organising our notes or to-dos and we add that to our system.
Of course, the problem now is we have a lot of apps doing similar things and a hybrid system of multiple systems that just becomes a confusing mess.
So how do we sort this out?
Well, the first step is to stop adding and to start subtracting. Subtracting apps and sections of your productivity system will clear things up pretty quickly. To do that though, you do need to step back first and decide what exactly you want.
Now, for me, a great productivity system is based on two things. Simplicity and speed. When something is simple to use, you are much more likely to use it and if it is fast you are going to be getting back to the work that matters much faster and you will be less likely to resist collecting what needs collecting.
So if we start from the premise that your system needs to be fast and simple we can start with COD. Now COD (collect, Organise and Do) is just a simplified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. So it is a good place to start.
How are you collecting? What’s your “ubiquitous capture tool” or “UCT”? For most people, that’s their mobile phone. Your phone is with you everywhere you go so if you have a thought, or you need to add a task, it is easy to pick up your phone and collect it there. Now, if we go back to the principle that your system needs to be simple and fast the question becomes “How are you collecting stuff”? Are your to-do list and notes apps on the home screen of your phone? How many clicks do you need to make to start typing what you want to collect?
A good guideline here would be two clicks and type. That’s open the app, click a plus button and type. If you have to click more than twice to start typing, you need to review how you collect. You could use an app like Drafts (if you are an iOS user) that’s one click and type.
Next up is Organise. How are you organising everything you collected? Now there are two parts to this. There’s processing—that’s the getting what you collected into its rightful place, a folder, a project list etc and deciding what the next action is and when are you going to do it—and there’s the overall organisation of your folders and projects.
Processing needs to be fast. The way to make processing fast is to organise your projects and files in a simple way as possible. For example, only have active projects in your projects list. Anything else should be in a someday maybe list—for me that would mean anything that is not due to start for six months or more would not be in my active projects list. These projects would be held in my Someday | Maybe folder and would only move up to my active projects list when they are due within the next six months.
When you are fully aware of your projects and what is going on in your world, processing becomes much faster. There’s little to no hesitation about where something should go because you have clearly defined projects.
This means the way you organise your folders also needs to be simple and as accessible as possible. I have an active folders list in iCloud. Anything I am working on will have a folder in my active folders list. That includes this podcast, my YouTube channel, my blog posts as well as my current active projects. I can access any of these folders simply by opening up iCloud. Processing and organising at the end of the day rarely takes me longer than fifteen minutes.
If it takes you longer than fifteen minutes to clean up your files and process your to-do list inbox at the end of the day, that’s an indication things are a little too complex. Go back and look at how your folders and projects are organised. Do you really need to have so many sub-projects? Are all your folders clearly defined? If not then start simplifying.
Now on to the tools.
This is often where most problems start. The latest cool app might sound and look good, but when you start adding all these apps to do different things you will find you start duplicating. When you start duplicating that will cause a drag on your system and slow you down. For example, Notion is the hottest kid on the block now. Notion can essentially be everything for you. If can be a wiki of information, a goal planning tool, a notes app even a to-do list.
Now the problem here is what if you already have a to-do list manager and a notes app? Let’s say you use Microsoft OneNote and have done for years. You know OneNote inside out and when you use it, you do not have to think about creating a new note, a checklist or clip an article from a blog you liked. Every year for the last five years you have developed your goals in OneNote and you have a wonderful archive of project notes, goals and other stuff in there.
If you add Notion to your tool kit what will you use Notion for? While Notion may present the information more beautifully than OneNote, no matter what you use Notion for, you are now going to have two places where something could be. It’s another app that needs managing and it’s another app that needs to be learnt. That will slow you down and add complexity.
In this situation, to stay effective and efficient, you are going to have to choose between OneNote and Notion. If you feel Notion is so much better than OneNote then fine, start migrating all your notes to Notion and from now on only use Notion. There will be a learning curve, but after a little time, you will learn to use Notion effectively.
The thing is, there’s going to be a time cost involved in switching over. So you will have to decide whether that time cost can be repaid once you are up and running with Notion. Remember, great productivity systems are built on simplicity and speed. Will Notion make you that much faster?
The way to simplify and get faster so you can spend more time getting the work done is to review all the tools you use and decide if they really are the best tools for the job. For writing I use Ulysses. I know it inside out and all my written work is organised cleanly and simply in there. Once something has been written, edited and published, the written piece gets placed into an archive. It’s a simple process and takes just a few seconds to organise.
I use Apple’s Pages and Numbers for specific work. For formatted written work, I use Pages. I don’t have to think about whether to use Pages, Word or Google Docs. If a written piece of work needs formatting and exporting as a PDF, then it’s Pages. Likewise for my admin work. If I need to monitor and measure some information, it will be created in Numbers. Again, I don’t have to think about what tool to use.
Al this keeps my whole system simple. Specific tools for specific jobs and no duplication.
So there you go Terry. To get things back to a more manageable system, do a complete review. It may take you a whole day to do this, but in this case, the time/cost-benefit will be worth it. Purge apps you don’t use or create duplication. Choose one tool for each type of work you do.
Review how you are organising your projects and folders. Ask yourself if this is the best and fastest way to organise this stuff. If it is not, review it and find a more simple and faster way to organise them.
And remember, all great productivity systems are built on the foundations of quick and easy to collect, organise so you can spend more time doing the work itself. When you free up more time to do the work and spend less time in your productivity systems you have more free time at the end of the day and that’s always a good thing.
I hope that has helped, Terry, and thank you for your question. Thank you also to all of you for listening.
Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, all you have to do is email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be happy to answer your question.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
This week, it’s all about building a personal learning system using the productivity tools we all have.
Hello and welcome to episode 94 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 show, I’m answering a question about developing a personal learning system using the tools we use or can use every day. Now I did this last year when I developed my own system for learning Korean and you can use a similar system for creating your own education system whether you just want to have a continuous learning system or you are going back to university in the next couple of months.
Now, before we get into this week’s question, I’d like to tell you about my Pathway to Productivity course bundle. This bundle contains From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days, Your Digital Life 2.0 and Time And Life Mastery 3. It is everything you need to build your very own productivity system—a system that not only handles your current work and your backlog but also shows you how to develop and build in your goals to your everyday life.
No matter where you are in your goal planning and productivity journey, this bundle of courses will give you everything you are looking for and is only $145.00. Details of the bundle are in the show notes.
Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Kalp. Kalp asks: Hi Carl, I heard you talking about developing a system for learning a language and I was wondering if you could tell me how I could create my own learning system. I recently started at university and I am struggling to keep all my learning materials and notes together so I can find them later.
Great question and a timely one too, Kalp as I know many people will be returning to university and college soon after the summer break.
Okay, the first thing you are going to have to decide is where will you keep your notes? There are a lot of choices here but you do need to choose carefully. Your notes, class handouts and other learning materials need to be searchable and you need a notes app that is robust enough to hold all sorts of documents.
The two big players in this field are Evernote and Microsoft OneNote. There is little to choose between them but OneNote may have the edge as it is free. Evernote does have better search functionality, but if you organise your materials effectively, then OneNote will be perfectly fine for this job.
When organising your notes app make sure you create notebooks (both Evernote and OneNote call folders “notebooks”) for each subject you are studying. You want to be able to open the app and get straight to the materials you have for each subject quickly and efficiently. It’s no good, having a notebook called “science” and then having a mix of biology, chemistry and physics scattering around that notebook. Separate them out. In this example, create individual notebooks for biology, chemistry and physics.
Just one tip here. If you have digital textbooks and large PDF files, I would recommend you use a cloud-based storage system. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or Apple’s iCloud would work well here. Just create a folder for each subject you are studying in your cloud drive. While OneNote and Evernote will hold these documents for you, because of their size they will slow down your notes app.
What I do here with my teaching materials is to divide the textbooks up into chapters and add the chapters individually to my notes app for better digital annotations. But that rather depends whether you want to use a tablet for annotating your learning materials or not.
And that leads me nicely to how you will take your notes. If you prefer the digital way, then here Microsoft OneNote is great. Using a stylus or Apple Pencil with OneNote is a great experience—particularly on an iPad. Evernote falls rather short here and I would not recommend using Evernote as your digital writing tool. Hopefully, that will be an area Evernote fixes pretty soon.
For me, I use an app called Notability. It has fantastic digital annotation functionality and all my teaching materials are kept in here.
If you prefer to use pen and paper for taking your lecture notes then I would suggest you buy A4 ring bound notebooks for each subject you are studying. Make sure you label the notebooks clearly or buy different colours for each subject. These notebooks are light and easy to carry in a bag.
A good practice to get into the habit of doing is scanning your notes into your notes app at the end of each day. That way you will always have a backup copy of your notes and you can use them for studying for you example later from any device you have wit you.
Next up your calendar. My advice would be to go with Google Calendar. Almost all universities and colleges with have a link you can subscribe to which will populate your calendar with the right events and classes. Make sure you subscribe to your course’s calendar subscription feed, rather than the university’s main feed. You don’t want to be seeing stuff you are not interested in there.
If there isn’t a way to subscribe to a calendar, then you will need to add your lectures and tutorial classes manually. Save yourself time by making them recurring events. You can always delete individual classes when they come up.
Make sure you add the dates for submitting course work and assignments. Put them in as all-day events that way they are clearly seen at the top of your calendar.
Now for your to-do list, Here you want to create project folders for each subject you are learning. For example, when I was at university studying law we studied five individual subjects each academic year. In one year we may have had Contract Law, Tort, Land Law, EU Law and Law and Legal Skills. Each one of those subjects needs to be individual projects. As you go through your studies there will be tasks you need to do related to those subjects and you can put them in there. These tasks could be things like research Donohue v Stephenson or begin writing an assignment on medical negligence.
Now the final part to your set up is to create a social project too. Part of being at university is the social side and having a project for your social life is just one of those things you will need to manage.
Now, one of the best ways to stay on top of your studies is to make full use of your calendar. Once you have your lecture and tutorial sessions in your calendar you will see where you will have time for doing your studies. Schedule your study time on your calendar. How you do this is really up to you. For me, I would always schedule my study time on a week to week basis. It becomes part of a weekly review. Often I found there were group sessions that needed to be scheduled as well as my social life—a band I wanted to see was visiting the student union club for instance. So trying to set my self-study time in stone was not really possible. Maintaining a little flexibility here really helps. It also means you can add more study sessions as assignments become due or you are preparing for exams.
So how does all this work on a day to day basis?
Well, as you go through your day with lectures and tutorial sessions you are going to be picking up tasks. You can collect these into your to-do list manager’s inbox. Process you inbox every 24 to 48 hours and get those inbox tasks into their correct project folder and dated, if necessary.
But the biggest task you will have on a day to day basis is to make sure you are keeping your study materials up to date. If you let this slip, it will very quickly become a mess. Just ten to twenty minutes each day will keep you up to date and current. For me, I would create a recurring task for every Monday to Friday to clean up my study materials. Scan in anything that needs adding and making sure all my lecture notes are filed into their correct place. I would also make sure I did this at the same time every day. Either just before or after dinner or first thing in the morning. It does not take long if you do it daily, it becomes a nightmare if you leave it and do it weekly. That’s when you forget what something means to you and if you haven’t titled or dated the notes correctly it becomes impossible to keep up. Do it daily. You will thank yourself for that later.
And finally, before you start, take my Beginners course on COD (Collect Organise and Do) - it’s free and it will give you everything you need to get your system set up.
Getting set up and ready now will save you a lot of stress and organising once you get to your university or college. It is not difficult to stay on top of things. It’s as Jim Rohn said: “a few simple disciplines practised every day”. That’s all you need. Just ten to twenty minutes daily and you will very easily keep up to date and organised and will have a very pleasant time during your studies.
I hope that has answered your question, Kalp. Thank you for sending it in and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, just send me an email email@example.com or DM me of Facebook or Twitter. I will be very happy to answer your question.
It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.
This week I have a fantastic question about managing interruptions and distractions throughout the day.
Hello and welcome to episode 93 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.
Okay, so we all get them, they are a part of life and they can cause us so much stress and pull us away from the work that is important to us. What am I talking about? I’m talking about all those interruptions from colleagues, customers and clients and yes, friends and family. What can we do to, not eliminate them—after all that’s not going to be possible—but at least reduce the impact they have on our day? That’s the topic for this week’s podcast.
Now, before I get into this week’s question, for all you newbie Todoist users, don’t forget I have just launched my new, FREE, Getting Started With Todoist online course. It’s around one hour in length and will take you through everything you need to know to set up Todoist, understand how tasks and dates work and build a fully functioning system. The course is available on my learning centre as well as on Skillshare. To enrol in the course you can find all the links in the show notes.
Okay, on to this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Neil. Neil asks: Hi Carl, could you share your thoughts or system that will help me to resume my work after getting interrupted. I am not distracted by social media much, but I am facing these kinds of issues and it's slowing down my productivity.
Great question, Neil.
Being interrupted while at work is just a part of life. It would be very rare for us to ever be in a situation where we could go all day without any interruptions. Things like other people’s emergencies, customers urgently needing the answer to a simple question and our boss wanting something done yesterday.
Now I feel I am quite lucky here because in the distant past I spent four happy years working in hotel management and in the hotel industry, the guests always come first. This meant that no matter what I was doing if a guest asked for something everything had to be dropped and whatever the guest wanted, if it was possible, we attended to it right away. That could be something as simple as an ironing board or something more complex such as finding a suitable meeting room. Whatever it was it had to be done immediately.
And the worst thing of all, these interruptions came in the form of a beeper. A little black box that you attached to your belt via a clip and whenever you were needed, you would be ‘bleeped’. It was horrible. I still have nightmares of that beeping sound almost twenty-five years later!!! When it did bleep you either picked up the nearest phone and dialled 1 or you ran up to reception and asked what they wanted.
I have to say, though, it was a great way to stay fit and healthy. Eight and a half hours of running around. Nothing beats that for keeping the weight off!!
To manage all these interruptions, and if you were the duty manager that day you had to deal with them yourself, I always carried a little notebook with me with a list of all the things I needed to do during my shift. When we started a shift we did a handover with the manager who was on duty before, so you knew about any issues and you also knew what needed to be prepared for while you were on shift. That could be a meeting, a special dinner or a VIP guest arriving.
I would write down all the things that needed to be done while I was on shift on one page of that notebook. Then as I went through my shift I crossed off what I had done while I was doing them.
This meant that as the bleeps came, and they always did, I could stop what I was in the middle of, deal with the interruption and once I had dealt with the guest or problem I would check my notebook and return to where I was before I was interrupted.
It was a simple, easy way of making sure I did not end up with a lot of half-finished jobs by the time I finished my shift,
Now, of course, we have smartphones which beep and buzz all day and a lot of those beeps and buzzes are not important at all. We have to exercise a little judgment. For the most part, I have notifications turned off. The only notifications I have turned on are for text messages as any text message that comes in is likely to be reasonably urgent. It could be a student telling they need to cancel their class or it could be my wife asking me something—and whatever that is, it is ALWAYS urgent and has to be done NOW.
However, I do still follow the same ‘system’ I developed while I worked in the hotel industry all those years ago. Instead of carrying a little notebook with me though, I have my phone and I have a list of all the things I need to do today in my to-do list manager.
These days, it is a little easier, the work I do now and the work I guess most of you do today is not as diverse as the kind of work you have to do in hotel management. Right now, for example, I am recording this podcast, my phone is on do not disturb and so is my computer. For the next thirty minutes, I cannot be disturbed as I record this.
However, let’s say as I am recording this, there’s a knock at the door and my dog barks—he has his job to do - to protect me from the postman. That would destroy any recording I have done and I need to attend to whoever is at the door. So I stop recording, thank the dog for protecting me and ruining the recording, and see who is at the door. Once that is done, I can return to my recording.
Now I have a decision to make. Do I pick up where I left off and edit out the bark, or do I start recording from the start again? But that’s all I need to do.
And that’s really the key here. Having clearly defined tasks.
Okay, so recording a podcast is an easy thing to get back to. What about if you were working on a complex Excel file? Now this one is a bit more difficult. If you are interrupted while in the middle of that kind of work, it could take a long time to get back to where you needed to be. For that kind of work, you really have to go ‘dark’ as I like to call it. Going ‘dark’ means you need to come off the grid and remove any possibility of interruptions.
That means your phone needs to be off, you need to ‘disappear’ and that means finding a place to work where you will not be disturbed.
Now, what I’ve found is if you tell people—your colleagues, boss and clients that there will be times when you are not contactable but you will always return calls and emails as soon as you are finished, people understand. They often say they envy your discipline (ah, there’s that word again) It’s simply not true to say “my customers do not understand”. Your customers are humans too. They would understand if you set the boundaries. Most people do not set boundaries.
And that takes me to the next point. Managing expectations. If you are serious about getting your important work done, you have to do this. You have to manage the expectations of those around you. If you were to tell everyone that between 10 am and 12 pm you would not be available because that is when you get on with doing your work, everyone would respect that. In almost twenty years of working in law and teaching, I have never once had anyone get upset because for two hours each day I was not available, Never. In fact, what I have found is I have received a lot more respect from clients and students and other faculty members than my colleagues who are always available have.
I do this with email too. I tell everyone I will always reply within twenty-four hours. And I stick to that rule. This is why my “action Today” folder in email is so effective. I set the sorting to first in at the top and the last email in at the bottom. That way, the oldest email is at the top and I can quickly see when it came in and when I need to reply by. If I cannot answer the email because I am waiting for more information, I will still reply within 24 hours and explain I am still waiting for information.
For most of us, we need to be available to our clients, customers, colleagues and bosses for most of the day. But that does not mean you have to be available for the full eight to tens hours of your working day. Tell the key people in your work life that you need to go dark at some point in the day to get on with your work. I have a client who is a doctor who goes dark between 5 pm and 6 pm every day to do his processing and daily mini-review and deal with the email in his “Action Today” folder. It helps him to stay on top any backlog and his patients all know he cannot be contacted between those times. He never has any problems and no one has got upset because they cannot contact him during that time.
When you have a realistic list of the work you have to do each day on your daily to-do list, you use your calendar to block time off each day for focused work you will always know what you need to do. If you do get disturbed while you are in the middle of something just make a note of where you are and deal with the interruption.
If you need your full concentration for a piece of work, then put all your devices on do not disturb and get on with the work. I promise you, no one will be upset if you are unavailable for an hour or two.
I hope that has helped you in some way, Neil. I know it is not easy to set boundaries and to go ‘dark’, but try it for a week. You will be surprised at what happens. People do understand and you will find people will respect your time a lot more than if you made yourself available all the time. Set some boundaries, manage expectations and you will see a huge boost in your productivity.
Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast all you have to do is email me or DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be very happy to answer your question.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
This week I have a fantastic question about the difference between processing and doing and when to apply the two-minute rule.
Hello and welcome to episode 92 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 fantastic question about processing items in your inboxes. This question perfectly describes a problem I see many people have when it comes to using GTD—or COD—for that matter and that is the speed you process the items you collect throughout the day. The problem though does not end with the items you have collected that day, it also affects how you process your email and collected notes.
Now before we get to this week’s question, I would like to tell you about my new FREE, beginners guide to Todoist course. This course is a simple, onboarding course to help you get started with Todoist. It covers all the basics and allows you to develop a system that will work for you. The course is ideal for anyone you would like to introduce to Todoist and also if you are new to Todoist, then this will get you set up and running in next to no time at all.
Of course, for all you advanced users out there, I have over 200 videos on Todoist over on my YouTube channel, so if this course does not cover what you are looking for, I am sure you will find it on my YouTube channel.
Oh, and don’t forget my summer sale on my coaching programmes. You can save yourself up to $200 by getting yourself into the programme now. Details of what you will receive from the programme are all in the show notes to this podcast.
Okay, on to this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Justin. Justin asks: Hi Carl, I’ve watched many of your videos and you often talk about processing your inbox as only taking around 10 to 20 minutes. For me, it takes more than 30 minutes - often an hour - is there anything I am doing wrong?
Hi Justin, thank you very much for your question.
Let’s start with a recap on what processing is. Processing, or organising, is where you sort out everything you have collected into your inboxes and make decisions on them based on what a collected item is, what needs doing with it and where to put it. In theory, this should be relatively quite a simple task, yet I know it causes people so many problems that in the end they resist doing it and things start to build up in inboxes. When that happens you soon stop collecting and that’s a sign your system has failed and you need to reassess your structure and overall system.
Now, there are two inboxes that will need your attention every day - or at least every forty-eight hours. Your to-do list manager’s inbox and your email inbox.
Let's deal with what you collect in your todo list manager’s inbox first.
Here we have some control over what’s in there. When you are collecting notes and to-dos you get to choose where they go—tasks go into your to-do list, ideas and plans to your notes app. Now in the rush to collect something, we may not have defined whether something is a task or a note. That’s okay, but you will need to make that decision at some point. If you have time when you collect the item, make that decision then. That will save you time later.
With email, you have little control over what comes in. That said, I do think you have more control than you probably think. For example, do you really need to subscribe to all those newsletters? Do you really need all your LinkedIn and social media notifications coming to your inbox every day? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. That a choice you can make.
You can also set up rules in most email apps that will filter emails as they come in. You can arrange it so that all newsletters get automatically sent to a specified newsletter folder for example or have emails that have you as a cc’d recipient send to a specific folder—when you are a cc’d recipient it generally means the email is for your reference only. The only thing you will need to with these folders is to make sure you are reading and reviewing them once a week or so. I would set up a recurring task in my to-do list to remind me to do this.
Next up, do not confuse processing with doing. What I see is people going through their inboxes and trying to do the tasks instead of making decisions about them. Now, of course, you may say what about the two-minute rule? I’d say what about it? You see you need to apply the two-minute strategically. If you have an inbox of 100 items and you apply the two-minute rule to just ten of those items, that’s twenty-minutes gone. In those twenty minutes, you could easily have cleared your inbox.
And that the thing here. What are you trying to achieve? Clear the inbox or do the work? The two parts are very different.
The problem I have seen if you combine doing the work and processing you don't do a very good job at either. You don't get as much work done as you would hope and you still have unprocessed items left in your inbox.
It is far better to focus on processing only. Decide what something is and what needs to happen—if anything— next. Once those decisions have been made you can put the item where it needs to go. Using keyboard shortcuts and drag and drop I’ve found to be the fastest way to do this.
Processing is all about speed. The faster you can do it, the sooner you can get down to doing your work. If you spend too much time deciding what something is and what to do about it, then your processing will take far too long. This is why the way you structure your to-do list manager, email and note app is important. If your projects, folders and notebooks are too vague or are very similar in nature you will find you hesitate before making a decision. It will drag down the speed at which you process. When you have clear, well-defined projects and notebooks then you will make your decisions about where something should go much faster.
Of course, if you have plenty of time to do your processing and you do not have many items to process, then you can apply the two-minute rule. I often do this when I process my to-do list inbox at the end of the day. If I have less than ten items in there I will do those tasks that will take less than two minutes. Yesterday, I collected a task to save Fast and Furious 6 to my watch list on Netflix for example. A less than two minute task. I just went over to Netflix, found the film and saved it to my watch list and cleared the task—I’m catching up on the Fast and Furious franchise of films at the moment.
However, if there are a lot of items in my inbox, then the focus is on processing those items. I will just process everything first. I will leave tasks that can be done in two minutes or less in the inbox if I intend to do them in that session of work, but if not, they get processed and organised in their rightful folder. Remember organising and doing are two entirely different things.
Now you may find your notes app inbox does not get that many items in it on a day to day basis. I don’t collect items into Evernote every day, so I don’t process that every day. Anything going into Evernote will not be urgent or time-sensitive for me. They are often things I want to read later, ideas that I want to develop at some time in the future or an article I think will be useful for a book or blog post I am writing. As I don’t send too many items there, I only process it once a week. Usually, I have around twenty to thirty items to process, so I can get those processed and organised in less than twenty minutes.
If you use an app like Drafts, you can collect a lot of your stuff, such as items to a checklist or ideas list directly, and bypass the inbox. That’s a real time saver.
Also, with apps like Evernote you get a unique email address you can use to send items directly to your inbox, you can use this email address for subscribing to newsletters. This then brings the newsletter direct to your Evernote inbox and I can process it from there instead of my email. Again it’s really all about saving time and speeding up the processing time.
Before we finish this episode let me share with you an area of processing I do every morning. It might help to give you an idea of how long your processing should take.
Because I live over in the Far East, while I am asleep, North and South America and Europe are awake. So, when I wake up in the morning I will often have over a hundred emails in my inbox. Now, before I take a shower I boil my egg and to get the water boiling and the egg cooked to my favourite level, it takes 12 minutes. That gives me twelve minutes to process just over one hundred emails. Often I can actually do that in under ten minutes, but on average, because I only allow my egg boiling time to process those emails, I will get it done.
For me, it’s simply just about making a decision about what something is, whether I want to take action on it or read it later. Because those folders are at the top of my email folder list, I just drag and drop them as I go through my inbox. Once finished, I have an empty inbox, a list of actionable emails I have twenty-four hours to respond to—my personal rule: respond to all emails within twenty-four hours—and I’m ready to step into the shower and really start my day.
And that’s the goal to have, process as fast as you can and then get on do the work that matters most to you.
I hope that’s given you some ideas, Justin. Thank you for your excellent question. And thank you to you too for listening.
Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, just send me an email or DM me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be happy to answer your question if I can.
It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.
This week I am delighted to welcome back to the show, Kev Blackburn.
In this episode, part 2 (of 2) we continue our talk about getting back on track if you have fallen slightly behind on your goals.
This week I am delighted to welcome back to the show, Kev Blackburn.
You can also listen on:
In this episode, part 1 of 2) we talk about getting back on track if you have fallen slightly behind on your goals.
This week we are back to managing email and how to manage multiple email accounts.
Hello and welcome to episode 88 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
We’re back to email this week with a very interesting question about managing multiple email addresses and whether to have them all in one place or to have different apps for different email addresses—a sort of compartmentalisation for email.
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Okay, it’s now time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Salvatore. Salvatore asks: Hi Carl, I have four email addresses: work, personal and two volunteer group emails. What do you recommend? One email app per address (Outlook, Gmail, web) or should I have all emails delivered to one inbox and filter somehow. Thank you!
Thank you, Salvatore, for your question.
Many people have multiple email addresses. We have our work email address, a personal address and probably a few others we have accumulated over the years. The question is how do we manage all those emails.
The ideal is to have one email app and have all your accounts coming in to that one email account. Now of course, I know this might not be possible in all cases. You may have Outlook for your business email and you company could have strict policies about how you use that account. In that case, you have no choice. In many ways that can work for you as it will enable you to place a hard edge between your work and your personal life.
But let’s zoom out a little here. Email, whether it is a business related email or a personal one is still the same thing functionally. It is an input that needs a decision making on it. What do you need to do with the email? Reply? Save it for reference? Send it to someone else to deal with or delete it. It does not matter where that email comes from. You still need to make a decision about it. So, having everything come in to one place rather than multiple apps means you have less to check and therefore there less chance anything will get missed.
I use Apple Mail both on my computer and my phone and iPad. All emails I receive come into that one app. I have folders set for each account though. For example, my two businesses - the productivity work and my English communication work each have their own email addresses. I also have a personal account for personal messages and online shopping. They all come in to the one app and one inbox.
My basic email folder structure is:
Action Today - this folder is for any email that requires action. It could be a reply, it could be something I have to read or it could be something else I need to do. If whatever it is I need to do will take longer than two minutes, then I will put the email into that folder for the right account.
Next up I have my Waiting For folder. Usually, the only emails in there are emails I am waiting for something to be delivered. Online shopping for example and occasionally an email I waiting for a reply on. I check this folder once a day and once I have received the order or the reply I am waiting for I will remove the email and archive it.
Then there is my archive folder for everything else. Once I have dealt with an email I will swipe left and the email automatically goes off to my archive folder.
The question most people have is what about emails related to specific projects. This one is really your call. If you feel more comfortable having emails related to projects you are working on in one place, you can create folders for those specific projects. I don’t typically do this, but I do create specific folders for trips I am making. For example, last April when I went over to the UK and Ireland I created a folder for that trip because I have airline itineraries as well as hotel booking confirmations and car hire details. I wanted to have all these in one place in case I needed them while I was on the trip.
Once I got back home I archived all those emails and deleted the folder.
I have another trip coming up in September when I will be going over to Singapore. Again, I have created a folder specifically for that trip so all my hotel booking confirmations and flight itineraries are kept in there. This means if I need to access any information quickly at an airport or hotel, I can get it very quickly without having to search through all my emails.
Now, if you do have strict rules about what comes in to your work email account you have no choice. You will have to have separate email apps for your personal email and your work email. That should not be a big problem though. The only thing you need to do is to make sure you are processing your personal email every twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
This can be easily forgotten as you probably don’t treat personal email as important as your work email. A tip here would be to use your to-do list manager to remind you to check your personal email once a day. If you only check it once a week or once every few days its inbox will fill up and you will have to spend a lot of time clearing it out. Spending ten minutes or so each day processing your inbox here will keep you up to date and make sure you are not missing anything important.
I think the biggest problem with email is we treat it as something more than just another input. But that it really all it is. It’s another input of stuff requiring your attention and a decision. So the secret, if it really is a secret, is to make sure you are processing it regularly and make those decisions about what needs to happen with it. Creating a system for processing your inbox or inboxes will help you to become much faster at making those decisions over time. If you can have all your email coming in to one app, that’s ideal. But if that is not possible, then make sure you build the system of processing your various accounts on a daily basis. Work related email may need checking several times a day, your personal email less frequently. That’s the choice you need to make.
For me, the advantage of using Apple’s Mail app is its ability to create rules within the Mac OS system. Sadly this does not work on iOS mail, but I have created a unified Action Today smart folder where all my actionable emails come into one folder on my Mac. All three of my accounts have an Action Today folder and I want to see all these emails in one place. To do that I set up a Smart Mailbox to collect any email that I have designated as an Action Today email. I have tested many email apps over the years and I have never found an app that will allow me to do that. Newton, Spark and AirMail allow me to have multiple accounts but these are all separated within the app. So, if I use any of those apps I have to check three folders for actionable emails. With Mac OS Mail, I only have one folder to check.
To overcome this, you can flag actionable emails, and most of these third party apps will collect all your flagged emails into one place. Once you have dealt with the email you can simply unflag it. It’s not a perfect way to do it, but it does work.
So there you go, Salvatore. I hope that has helped. Try to keep all your accounts in one app. If that is not possible make sure you are using the minimum number of apps and check them everyday so they do not start to become overwhelming. Doing that should help you to keep everything under control. And remember, any email—personal or work related—is still just another input you need to make a decision on and then do something about it.
Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you’d like answering, then you can email me - firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Do find you are always looking for the best app for your productivity yet never seem to be able to find it? This week, I answer a question that might just help.
Hello and welcome to episode 87 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week’s it’s all about productivity apps and how to get the right one and more importantly stick with it once you have made the decision.
But before we get into this week’s question, don’t forget the Time And Life Mastery online course has been updated. It’s a great course that will show you how to develop a plan for your life and then how to create the process for achieving it.
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Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Heather. Heather asks: Hi Carl, I’ve been trying to get myself more organised over the last year or so, but I can’t seem to find the right apps. I’ve tried so many, but find I am soon looking for another one. Do you have any tips that will help me to find the right apps? There’s just so many to choose from.
Thank you, Heather, for your question. I’ve written a lot about this over the years because I used to be obsessed with the latest and shiniest new apps. I tried pretty much everything out there, always telling myself that this new app was going to solve all my productivity problems. I think on some weird, deep level I hoped these new apps would do the work for me.
The truth is, no app is ever going to do the work for you and the latest and shiniest app will have the just as many frustrations as the previous app you used.
Let me give you an example. When the new Apple Notes app came out two or three years ago, I thought this is it! This is the perfect app. Built for the Apple ecosystem and with the Apple Pencil in mind. I thought, finally an app that would rival Evernote and give me everything I wanted.
Ha! That didn't happen. Apple Notes is great for taking notes, there’s no question there. But you wait until you have a few hundred notes in there and you want to find a note you made several months earlier. Good luck with that.
So while Apple Notes does look better than Evernote, in my opinion, it doesn't come close to being as good as Evernote when you want to find a specific note.
I had the same issue when Notion came along. I spent a whole afternoon playing around with it. WOW! This app promised to do so much. It could be a place for me to store my goals and plans, be a research tool and be a replacement for Evernote. It appeared to be able to do everything for me. I was particularity drawn to the idea of it being able to act as a dashboard for me. A place where I could see all my open projects, goals and other stuff I wanted to see on a daily basis.
As I played around with it I began to realise that while Notion could do so much, what it could do was not as good as the existing tools I was using. I could see so many frustrations. So the advantage of having everything managed in one app, was negated by the compromises I would have to make and of course, there was the problem with all those settings. When you have an app that allows you to customise almost everything from fonts, background colours and images, you are never satisfied, so you spend a lot of time messing around with them and not doing any work. (Although you convince yourself you are doing work because all these changes to your settings will somehow improve your workflow)
So, you need to choose your apps with care. To do that, the best place to start is with a pen and piece of paper. Ask yourself what do you want your apps to do for you?
Let’s take your to-do list manager for example. Do you prefer to see things in a simple list, or are you more of a visual person? Do you prefer to see things as cards or as lists of projects? Apps like Things, OmniFocus and Todoist will give you your to-dos in a simple list format. Or would you prefer to see things in a more Kanban layout where you see your projects as cards on a board? For that, an app like Trello or Asana would be a good fit.
When it comes to notes, again how you want your notes to be presented to you is important. Google Keep gives a card like layout, Evernote and Apple Notes will give you a more traditional list layout.
Another question for your notes app is how many notes will you want to keep in there? If you are planning on storing all your digital notes in the app, then Evernote or Microsoft OneNote is the way forward. If it is just a few notes, a quick place to capture your ideas, then something like Apple Notes or Google Keep would work well. But, and this is a big but, you need to choose something that works for you.
And that really is the point here, Heather. Find something that you like and works for the way you like to work. I’ve done the “if it works for that organised person then it must work for me” thing in the past. The truth is it will not necessarily work for you. We all work differently, think differently and have different ideas about what looks nice and what doesn’t. Many people don't like the way Evernote looks, that’s okay. I’ve got past that. Many people cannot. There are plenty of functional, aesthetically pleasing apps to choose from out there. Personally, I think Microsoft OneNote looks better than Evernote, but that’s just a personal thing.
Once you have chosen what apps you want to use, then the next stage of the process begins. Learn everything you possibly can about the app. Go to YouTube, find tutorials, read blogs and go through every menu item to see what each one does. Set up a ghost project (a fake project to use for experimentation) in your chosen to do list manager and test out every possible variation you can think of.
That’s really the trick with becoming better organised and more productive. Knowing how to use your apps. Knowing how to quickly add a new item, process that item to its correct place and being able to retrieve it when you need it quickly and effortlessly.
And that brings me to collecting stuff. For me, this is the biggest one. If it is quick and easy to collect my to-dos and notes, I am not going to resist. If it is complicated, involves too many button clicks or I have to think too much, I will resist. Reducing the button pushes and clicks for me is vital. I have what I call “the changing trains” test. Can I easily collect a thought or idea when I am changing trains? I do actually test this. Any new way of collecting must pass that test before I adopt that new approach. If you can collect a task, idea or note while switching trains then it is fast enough. There must be a lot of people in Seoul who think I am very strange taking into my phone or watch to test while switching trains to see how fast collecting is haha.
Another consideration for me is how easy is it to organise my projects? You see, you do not want to be spending too much time inside your productivity tools. You productivity tools are not where your work happens. Your work happens in your email apps, Microsoft Word, Google Docs or PowerPoint or Keynote. The more time I spend inside my writing app, Ulysses, for example, the better. That’s where the work happens. The productivity apps I use must have drag and drop for tasks into projects for example. I can process an inbox of 15 tasks in Todoist to their rightful projects in less than five minutes. That includes adding any necessary dates, priorities or labels. The same with Evernote, I process my Evernote inbox every weekend—usually as part of my weekly review and I can easily process twenty to thirty notes in less than ten minutes.
But processing is not the only thing that needs to be fast. Being able to search and find what you are looking for is also a crucial element. If searching for something is laborious or difficult then the app fails my tests. The app must be easy to search within. Evernote’s search is legendary. I think at the moment that one feature is what is keeping Evernote relevant. Likewise, Todoist search is incredibly fast and the search bar is at the top in every part of Todoist.
So there you go, Heather. To find the right app you do need to do a little testing. Four things need testing:
The first is how fast can you collect your tasks, ideas and notes? Would your app pass the “changing trains” test? If not, then it won’t work for you. Find an app that you can collect your stuff quickly and easily with the minimum of clicks.
The second is, do you actually like using the app? If you don’t like the way it works or you do not like the design, then you are not going to want to use it. So choose an app that appeals to the way you work and your own aesthetic tastes. We are all different here.
Thirdly, how fast can you process the things you collected? You want processing your things to be fast. Remember your productivity apps don’t do the work for you, they only tell you what needs doing and how. So the less time you spend inside your apps, the more work you will get done.
And finally, can you easily find what you are looking for when you need to find it? Searching is a crucial element when you are building your own productivity system. You are going to be throwing a lot of stuff in these apps and if you are not able to find what you put in there, the app fails. So check out the search function. It will be important.
So those are the four tests. And remember, once you have learnt everything you can about these apps, then stick with them for at least a year. You need to give the app time to become part of you and part of your system. If you are constantly switching your apps you will never learn how to user them properly and no app will be good enough for you. Stick with the apps for at least a year and make them work for the way you work.
I hope that answers your question, Heather. Thank you for sending it in.
Thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then send me an email—email@example.com—or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be very happy to answer your question for you.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Is your to-do list overwhelming and the cause of a lot of your stress? This week, I answer a question about reducing your to0do list to a more manageable level.
Hello and welcome to episode 86 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week it’s all about getting overwhelming to-do lists down to more manageable levels. It’s having to look at a to-do list that drops off the bottom of the screen that causes so much stress and ultimately makes us not want to look at our daily to-do lists, which is really not what a to-do list is meant to do.
Before we get into the question and answer, I would just like to thank all of you who have enrolled in the Time And Life Mastery version 3 course. Your support enables me to keep doing what I do and to help many more people become better organised and more productive and I am so grateful to you all.
And if you are not ready to purchase an online productivity course, that’s okay. I do have a free basic guide to building your own productivity course that you can enrol in. It is a short, forty minute or so course that will give you the basics of creating a productivity system that will work for you. Remember, any system needs to work for you. This course gives you the foundations on which to build your own system and to help you become better organised and more productive.
Details for this free course are in the show notes.
This week’s question comes from Claire. Claire asks: Hi Carl. Every time I look at my to-do list I just feel completely overwhelmed and never complete it. Every day I have to move a lot of tasks to another day. Am I doing anything wrong?
Hi Claire, I'm pretty sure you are not the only one experiencing this. With so much being thrown at us every day from all sorts of places it is very hard to get everything we plan to do each day done. However, there are a few techniques you can use that can help you.
The first is to get realistic about what you can and cannot do in a day. We often think we can do a lot more than we actually can.
A few years ago, I did an experiment to find what the optimum number of tasks I could complete each day was—I know, I lead a very exciting life— I monitored my daily task completion for a week and averaged it out. It turned out I averaged twelve tasks per day. That was a bit of a shock. I always thought I was efficient and got a lot more tasks done than that, but there it was, in black and white, so to speak, twelve meaningful tasks per day.
Now I did not include my routine tasks in that number—you know the little things that just have to be done each day that do not improve your life in any way. Taking the garbage out, walking the dog, doing the washing up etc.
Having this information was great though. It meant I could plan my days with realism and not optimism.
You see, our brains have no real concept of time or context when we think about our work. That’s why when we think about a project we would like to complete we sometimes believe we can do it all in one day. The reality is you can’t—not if you want to do the work to a high degree of quality. It is also why a task such as a reply to an email, can often cause anxiety because our brain is telling us it will take hours when in reality it would only take around ten minutes.
This is why using your calendar to plan out your day is so helpful. Because calendars are organised by time slot you can allocate those slots to the work you have to do. It gives you a realistic perspective on how much time you have available to do your work each day.
Going back to the number of tasks you complete each day, if you do the same experiment, then average out the number of tasks you complete per day you will find your optimum daily number of tasks you can complete. I would then suggest you reduce that number by two.
For me, that got me to ten tasks per day.
Now the beauty of just having ten tasks on your main daily to-do list is it never looks overwhelming. It’s manageable and is based on the reality of the number of tasks I can complete each day. There is no point in me fighting this. Sure, I would love to get more tasks completed per day, but the reality is I cannot.
Instead what I had to do was become better at prioritising my day—which, when you think about it, is no bad thing—It forces me to decide what tasks are important. The tasks that will move my life and projects forward, and what tasks are what I like to describe as vanity tasks—tasks that feel good to check off, but do not really move anything forward. Things like: clean up my desk, reorganise my notes and clean up my to-do list.
When you develop your skill at prioritising you begin to get much better at moving the right things forward. What I also found was that projects that were not moving forward consistently began moving towards completion much faster. There was a lot of wins in this small, but significant change or approach.
As for your routines, a lot of these don't need to be on your to-do list at all because there are some natural triggers. A natural trigger is something that naturally reminds you to do something. You know when to take the garbage out because the trash can is full. You know when to refuel your car because the fuel warning light will come on and you know to do the laundry because your laundry basket is full. All these are what are called natural triggers. You don't also need a task on your to-do list.
Look around for these natural triggers. They are your best friend.
Now for the routine tasks that do need to be on your to-do list, then these can be tagged as routines so you can filter them out. Again, this depends on the app you are using, or if you are a pen and paper person, you could have them listed in your notebook on a separate page and you can go through them one by one to make sure you have done them.
When I add my routines to the ten tasks I have committed to, I find I am completing on average fifteen to twenty tasks per day and I am not having to reschedule many tasks at all. A lot of my routine tasks are optional, but I often find at the end of the day, I only have three or four of these left to complete so I just get them done.
Another way to help reduce overwhelming lists is to make full use of tags and filters. Now, this depends on what app you are using. If you use OmniFocus, you can create perspectives which allow you to filter out tasks you cannot do or do not want to do right now. Likewise, with Todoist, you can create filters to remove tasks you do not want to see first thing in the morning.
I filter tasks by the time of day. I use the flags in Todoist for this. Red flags are the objectives that must be completed that day. I limit these to just two per day. I use orange flags for my morning tasks and blue flags for the afternoon.
For those of you not using Todoist, you can use tags. Just create a tag for AM and a tag for PM and when you plan your day... you do plan your day don't you?— you can add those tags based on where you are going to be that day. This way, when you start the day because you have already decided what you will do in the morning you can just open up the tag, filter or perspective for the right time of day and get started. If you have prioritised your day and limited the number of tasks you commit to for that day, then this list is going to be much smaller and ultimately much more motivating.
Finally, plan your day the day before. This for me is a no-brainer. When we process our inboxes, we often add dates to tasks that are not really based on the day they really need to be done. We tend to date things wishfully. We date tasks for dates we “wish” to complete them. The problem with this approach is that often we end up with days—towards the end of the week funnily enough—where we have far too many tasks. If you sit down for ten minutes or so at the end of the day, look at your list for tomorrow, check your calendar to make sure you have the time available and make a decision on what tasks you will complete and when you fill always start the day with a rock solid, achievable plan for the day. This is what I call the 2+8 prioritisation technique. Ask yourself what are my two objectives for tomorrow—the tasks I will complete whatever happens and what are the eight other tasks I would like to complete?
Once you have that done, you can go home, relax and know your day is planned and you have set yourself an achievable amount of work for the day. No more overwhelm no more stress or anxiety. Just that great feeling of knowing you have everything under control.
Thank you very much, Claire, for your question and thank you to all of you for listening to this episode. If you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then just send me a quick email, firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Facebook or Twitter.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Do you have the patter of tiny feet around your home? Are you raising a bunch of lovely kids? How’s your productivity going? In this week’s episode find out a few strategies to cope with those little bundles of joy called kids.
Hello and welcome to episode 85 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week I have a great question about coping with a young family. Now anyone with children will understand the difficulties these little ones pose to our overall productivity. But with a few simple adjustments and a little shift in your mindset, this period of life does not need to be stressful or too harmful to our productivity.
Don’t forget, if you haven’t enrolled in the third edition of Time And Life Mastery yet, you should do so soon. The early-bird discount period ends tomorrow (Midnight Monday) and I would hate for you to miss out on not only a fantastic, life-transforming course, but also a great price - just $85.00.
For those $85.00 you get Time and Life Mastery version 3, the Updated Time And Life Mastery Workbook AND… You also get free access to Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s an incredible value for just a tiny investment.
So go on, get yourself enrolled today and begin transforming your life into a life you want to live.
Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Matt. Matt asks: Hi Carl, I'm a father of 2 daughters, (3 and 1) and naturally they take or impact a lot of my time. I've been trying to build a productivity system for a long time that works for me, as well as implementing a lot of the tips and routines suggested by you and others. However, everything I have found seems to rely on building a predictable routine for oneself, which is near impossible with children. Do you have any tips that will help me?
Hi Matt, Thank you so much for this question. I am sure there are a lot of people experiencing this joyous, life-changing experience as well as the challenges that come along with it.
Having small children around is a huge demand on your time and disrupts the most organised of people. But let’s be honest here, raising children is likely to be the biggest responsibility and best experience you will ever have in your life and one you should enjoy, cherish and let it be where you do your best work not just professionally but as a parent.
The first point is as you say, Matt, it is almost impossible to stick to any kind of plan when your kids wake up at different times each day and in all likelihood go off to sleep at different times too. So what can you do?
Well, the first thing to understand is if you are trying to stick to a routine at the same time each day you are only going to be fighting yourself. It is not going to happen with any consistency and ultimately you will fail. On that point no matter what you do your kids will win in the end. So rather than have a set time for morning routines, it would be better to start your morning routines when you wake up. Now that could be 4am or it could be 7am the key is you begin the day the same way.
Now we all follow some kind of routine each day. When we wake up we make our coffee, we brush our teeth, shower etc. So whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you do still follow some kind of routine each day. With kids, you have added tasks. Breakfast needs preparing, kids need dressing etc. All these routines are things you just do because you have to do them.
It can be useful to have a morning ‘have I done?’ checklist. What this means is you have a list of things you have to do in a morning - not wish to do things - wish to do things should never be on this list. This list is for things that you absolutely have to do and all it is doing is asking “have I done this?”
This question—“have I done this?”—is a powerful question because rather than telling you to do something it is asking you whether you have done it and if you haven’t you can decide if you want to do it or not. It gives you a better sense of calm, when all around you may be chaos. I know this might sound simplistic, but it works. You should try it. It is far less commanding and gives you an option to decide.
Now as an aside here, if you create this morning checklist on a little whiteboard in your kitchen you can involve your children in the process too. You can ask them the questions one by one and they can check off the tasks as you go through them. By starting them young you are installing habits that they will get a great deal of benefit from in later life. Now that’s a win-win for all of you.
Now as for your own personal morning routines, again you need to be flexible. You will have to accept there will be days when you are not going to be able to fit in exercise, or reading. Your kids are going to demand your attention. But from a parent’s perspective, that’s a great thing. You are getting some quality time with your kids. If possible, involve your kids in your exercise. You can ask them to sit on your back while you do press-ups for example, or you can get them to hold your knees when you do your stomach crunches. Another thing you can have them do is press the stopwatch start button and tell you when you have done 30 seconds or a minute. There are endless ways of involving your kids in an exercise programme.
Of course, you might not get the exercise session you want, but at least you get some exercise and you have just given your children some quality time with you.
Okay, what about your personal projects
For the most part, your projects are going to have to be realistic. You will need to reduce the things you used to do before your children came along. There’s no point in thinking that your kids will all go to bed at the same time, sleep soundly and wake up at the same time each day. That’s never going to happen. So if you have any thoughts about being able to micro-manage your day you are heading for a big surprise. That won't happen. But that’s okay.
Rather than micro-scheduling your day, you are better working from a master list of projects and working on them as and when you get time. I’ve found it’s often better to plan what you would like to do on a weekly basis and keep that plan to the minimum of projects.
It’s really all about what you can do in the moments of time you get when your kids are either asleep or engaged in their own activities.
Your kids might be watching tv or drawing. While they are doing that you can do some of your own work. Of course, once again it is not ideal, but doing that is better than not doing anything at all. Just being able to move your projects forward a little is better than not moving forward at all.
With all that said, collecting your stuff and spending ten to fifteen minutes each day to organise that stuff should be possible even with the most energetic of kids. Kids drop off at some stage and when they get organising. It might be your only chance all day.
You could, of course, do what my mother did when she wanted some quiet time. She’d give me a spoonful of cough medicine and within twenty minutes I was sound asleep. I didn't turn out that bad... or did I? hahaha oh those were the days.
Now there is the other part to this and that is to negotiate time with your partner. Some friends of mine came up with an arrangement where when the husband came home from work—usually around 7—their young son was his responsibility. He was also responsible for their son on a Saturday.
Those Saturdays turned into some huge adventures from parking in the car park near the end of the local airport’s runway to watch the aeroplanes land and take-off to fishing at a local river. It was not only a great experience for their son it was hugely beneficial for the husband too because he was able to get time away from screens and work.
Whatever way you look at it, having kids running around the house is a joyous thing. For our own personal productivity, we need to adapt and create systems and strategies that allow us to have that important quality time with our kids and carve out some time for ourselves to work on our own projects.
It’s not easy, of course, but with a little foresight, creativity and a good strong list of things you want to complete is not impossible.
I should point out that the one thing you need to keep a tab on is your own sleep cycle. A lack of sleep will kill any ideas you have about staying productive, no matter how organised you are. Pay close attention to your own sleep. If you are not getting enough, prioritise catch-up time. This isn't about reducing your available time still further. This is more about making sure when you have time available it is not sabotaged by your own exhaustion. A lack of sleep will lead to mistakes which will need fixing, missed deadlines and poor performance. It just isn't worth it. If you are exhausted and you have a choice between clearing your email inbox and getting a twenty-minute nap. Take the nap every time.
Your email can wait. Your sleep cannot.
Whether you have kids or not, no matter how busy you are when you are at home, you will always have pockets of time to get on with the things you want to get on with. If you have a master list of projects you can look at when you do have a pocket of time, then no matter how busy you are you will be able to make progress on something. And that is what it is all about. Taking advantage of those pockets of time to get the stuff you want done.
I hope that goes some way to answering your question, Matt and thank you for allowing me to use your question.
Thank you too to all of you for listening. Don't forget if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, just email me, email@example.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes.
It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.