How To Finally Get Your Productivity System To Stick

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This week, we return to that familiar problem of sticking with your system once you have created it.

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Episode 84

Hello and welcome to episode 84 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 return to sticking with a system, the most common question asked this week, indeed I think on the last few weeks it’s been the number one question. 

Before we get into the question, in case you missed it, The Time And Life Mastery version 3 launched last week. This is a massive update with almost all classes re-recorded and with an updated workbook and downloadable sheets. 

This course is truly transformational. It takes you on a journey of discovery. You learn how to discover the things you want to do in your life and I show you how you can develop those dreams and goals and turn them into actionable steps that take you towards achieving them. You get to learn about the visual timeline, the 5 transformational questions to ask yourself and you begin work on your 50 things you want to do and achieve. 

And once you have your list and developed your plan on your visual timeline, I show you how to master your time so you can start taking the steps you need to take to achieve them. It’s not going to be easy—but then nothing worthwhile is easy—but the journey, the experiences and the achievement is what your reward will be and nothing can beat that. 

To find out more there is a link in the show notes to the Time And Life Mastery website and if you are quick, you can Dave yourself $15.00 by getting yourself an early-bird discount. 

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

This week’s question comes from Brian and Nilesh. They ask: We have set up our systems as you suggest in your courses, but now, after a few weeks we find we are not sticking with the system. Do you have any tips to keep us using the system? 

Thank you, Brian and Nilesh, for the great question. 

Okay, let’s start at the beginning here. For most of you, when you create a whole new productivity system things are going to be different. You are going to change a few habits and you are going to have to do things differently from the way you have done them before. That means you are changing habits and that is not going to be easy. A few weeks is not really very long to install a new way of doing things and of course, there are going to be times when crises and emergencies will take over the day. That’s just life and we have to develop strategies for dealing with those for when they happen. 

So, understanding that in order for any new system to work for you, you will have to change. Now for you to change old habits, you need to take things slowly. Take each step at a time. For instance, I always recommend that you focus on collecting to start with. The reason is simple. If you are not collecting everything into a trusted place, then you will have nothing to organise at the end of the day, so the whole system collapses before you even start. 

Now, when it comes to collecting, to stick with that, you need to get fast at collecting. Speed is the objective here. Most of the things you will be collecting will be done on the fly, so your mobile collecting needs to be fast. Whether you are using your mobile phone or a pocket notebook to collect, you need to a) make sure you have it with you at all times and b) you can collect with the minimum of barriers.

I like the old Steve Jobs analogy here. When they were developing the first iPod the goal was to be able to get to any song within three clicks or less. The engineers spent months testing and testing every scenario so that no matter where you were on your iPod, you were no more than three clicks away from the song you wanted. 

You need the same mindset when developing your collecting system. No more than three clicks to type. Actually, it should be less for capturing. Ideally, one click and you are typing if you are using a phone—that’s the reason I use Drafts for all my collecting. It’s one click and I am typing what I want to collect. 

Part of developing your system is finding the fastest way you can to collect everything. That also includes paper documents. I carry a plastic A4 wallet in my bag so I can slip any paper documents or name cards into that. I empty that out every two or three days, but if something is urgent I will add a task into my to-do list manager. 

So, collecting is all about speed. 

Organising is about setting time aside each day to organise and decide what needs to happen next with whatever you collected. That could be just adding a task to its rightful project or it could be you decide you no longer need it and so you delete it. 

Now with organising, the best way to develop this habit is to set aside 15 minutes at the end of your working day to do your organising. You should only need ten to twenty minutes to do this. So scheduling 15 minutes in your calendar every day at the same time will force you to stop whatever you are doing at that moment and begin organising. This is a little like tidying your desk at the end of your day before you go home. 

Let’s say you finish work at 6pm. So, schedule 5:45 to 6:00pm every day as your organising time. I like to call it the Golden Ten - the ten minutes you need to process and plan. 

Now, whatever happens, you make sure you do your organising and planning at that time. Even if you are in the middle of something. Stop. Do your organising and then return to whatever you were doing. The reason for this is if you continue working on whatever it is you were working and finish say at 8:30pm or 9:00pm you are going to begin skipping your organising and that’s when your system begins breaking down. Miss one or two like that and you lose momentum. Do not skip it!

It’s only for 15 minutes. Everybody can find 15 minutes each day to do their organising and planning. Schedule it and make sure it happens at the same time each day. It will quickly become a routine and then a habit and once it has, you are much less likely to skip it. 

So there you go. Focus on collecting and organising to get you started. These are the easiest parts to becoming better organised and more productive. So develop those habits first. 

So the next part to develop is planning and prioritising. This can be a bit more difficult because it takes time, and a little experience, to learn to identify which tasks have the biggest positive impact on your projects and goals. However, if you make sure you are doing your organising every day, you soon begin to see patterns. You see which tasks have a greater impact on the progress of a project. You can then start making sure they are prioritised each day. 

You should also reduce the number of tasks you have on your to-do list as much as you can. Long lists of to-dos create overwhelm, and overwhelm will stop you from looking at your lists. When you stop looking at your lists you stop planning and prioritising and then you are at the mercy of everyone else’s emergencies and urgent tasks. 

A simple way to do this is to look for natural triggers. Natural triggers are things that automatically tell you something needs doing. The fuel warning light in your car is a good example of a natural trigger. When the low fuel warning light comes on in your car you know you need to put fuel in. You do not need to add that to your to-do list. Likewise things like doing the laundry or taking out the garbage. You know they need doing when the laundry basket or the garbage can is nearly full. You can see that. You do not need them on your to-do list. 

You can also reduce your to-do lists by creating an “action today” folder in your email program and putting any email that needs action in there. Then all you need is one task in your to-do list manager that tells you to check your “action today” folder in email. This saves you from having to send actionable emails to your to-do list manager. 

Finally, as I talked about last week, you need self-discipline. Without that, you will never stick to any system. You need to give any system or app at least one year to develop and grow with you before changing it. If you are constantly changing apps, or you are constantly changing the time you do your organising and planning then you will fail. It just does not work like that. You need to be disciplined and stick with it no matter what you feel like. 

I can promise you if your system keeps failing it is not the app that is causing the failure it is you. You are not giving enough time to develop your new habits and to learn the apps you are using properly 

Finally, your calendar is your guide throughout the day. Your to-do list only tells you what to work on next. It is your calendar that tells you how much time you have before your next meeting. Your calendar tells you where you need to be and when and with who and it is your calendar that tells you you need to stop and do your organising. 

If you do not treat your calendar with the respect it deserves your whole system will come crashing down. You need to adopt the policy of “what goes on my calendar gets done”. No excuses. 

If you start to ignore what you have planned on your calendar then your calendar loses its power. This is why you should never give up control of your calendar to anyone. Not even your boss. It is your calendar and it is your time. Do not let anyone else have control of it. You can allocate time for other people to make appointments with you, but you need to be in control over when that time will be. You also need to block off time for focused work each day. Usually, the best time for that is early in the morning when everyone else is checking their email. You will have at least an hour each day when all your colleagues and customers are checking email so they won’t be bothering you. Use that time wisely and block off time each day to do some undisturbed important work. Again. No excuses. It is the only way you can control what gets done and leaves you in control of your time, and more importantly, your life. 

Well, I hope that has helped in some small way, Brian and Nilesh. Really it all comes down to self-discipline and without that, no system, app or device will work. If you don’t develop your self-discipline and habits and change your bad habits then nothing with ever stick. 

You need to make a decision now. Be disciplined, collect everything, schedule those fifteen minutes at the end of your day for organising and planning and make sure that what goes on your calendar gets done. That needs to be your focus for the next three months. 

At the same time, keep working on becoming faster at collecting so you never resist. Remember if you are not collecting, you will have nothing to organise and that means you have no system. 

Thank you for the question, guys and thank you all for listening. Don’t forget to take a look at the Time And Life Mastery course. I put my heart and soul into this course because I know it works and I know it can transform your life is so many positive ways. 

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