How To Set Up A Productivity System And Stick With It

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Are you struggling to start any kind of system? Then this week’s podcast is for you. 

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Episode 83

Hello and welcome to episode 83 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 setting up your system and sticking with it. I know a lot of people want to create a productivity system—something that helps them to stay on top of their work and the things important to them—yet fail to stick with their system or find they are always changing their system and apps and never really feel they are getting better.

Before we get to this weeks question, I have something really exciting to announce. The Time And Life Mastery 3 online course is coming later this week. This course will transform your life completely and this year it has been completely re-written and re-recorded. 

This course takes you on a journey of discovery. We start with your life. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to have in your life and how to create a plan to change the way things are today so you can begin down the road towards achieving those goals. 

Once you have a plan in place you begin the time mastery part of the course where I show you how to build your plan into your daily life and make sure each day you are making progress towards hitting your milestones and your objectives. 

This is a complete life course. I have divided it up over four days—although for you big achievers it is possible to do the course in just one day—and throughout the course, you complete a number of exercises designed to help you create the vision and plan you want for you and your family. 

More details of this course can be found on the course website which is 

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 Richard. Richard asks; Hi Carl, I have tried everything to get my life more productive but I just can't get anything to stick. Do you have any tips on how to get started and stay with a system 

Oh boy, this is one of those questions I get all the time. There is so much advice out there—a lot of it great advice—but I think sometimes that’s the real problem. There’s so much great advice it can be very hard to choose which advice is best for you. 

And in that statement is the heart of my answer to you, Richard. Whatever advice you take, it has to work for you. 

Now, I understand we all work differently. That’s one of the wonderful things about being human, we are all so amazingly diverse. With that, though, comes the issue that one size definitely does not fit all. 

I like all my stuff to be organised and in its rightful place. When I get home at the end of the day, my bag goes next to my desk. My phone goes in the same place and my AirPods immediately get put back in their case. 

My wife, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Her bag goes wherever she drops it and her AirPods sometimes get out in the dining table, sometimes on her dressing tables and in the winter sometimes put in her coat’s pocket. 

So the reality is, you need to build a system that works the way you work and to do that you need to understand how you work. 

An example of this is I recommend you spend around ten minutes at the end of the day processing all the stuff you have collected that day in your inbox and planning what you will prioritise tomorrow. In most people’s cases that work very well yet, I have a number of clients who wake up early and find doing their processing and planning early in the morning. 

Now, processing and planning are important if you are going to get control of your day. Without a plan, the day will grab control of you and your time and you will feel very busy but achieve very little of importance. 

So there is a great starting point. When will you do your planning? Morning or evening? 

Pick one. Then schedule it. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes for processing. Of course, the goal is to get that down to ten minutes (hence the phrase I use “The Golden 10”) but in the early days of your journey, it will take a little longer. 

Once you have a set time each day to process and plan you are really 50% of the way to having a great system. 

Now, for the other 50%. 

This is really dominated by collecting. If you are not collecting everything that comes your way, you will have nothing to organise at the end of the day and if you have nothing to organise you will have nothing to plan for. So collecting needs to be done. 

I’ve found this is an area a lot of people skip because they erroneously believe they will remember to do something. So they collect some things and not collect others. 

The problem with not collecting everything is it only takes one drama for your brain to forget what it was you wanted to remember. For instance, you could be waiting to cross the road and remember you need to send something to your colleague in Frankfurt. As you are waiting, a friend you haven't seen for a long time taps you in the back and you then you engage in a short conversation ending with a promise to do lunch next week. 

Now you have two things to remember, but you are so excited about catching up with your friend you completely forget about sending the file to your colleague in Frankfurt. 

When you take those few seconds to collect your tasks, ideas and events you do not forget. You’ve collected them and those things can now be processed when you have time for processing later in the day. 

So how do you get started? This is possibly the hardest part. The reason is that you need to stop fire fighting and for many people fire fighting is addictive. You feel you have to always be running around putting out fires and when you are not doing so, you feel incredibly uncomfortable. 

You have to stop. 

Now depending on how much backlog you have and how much important work you have neglected this will determine how much time you need. Typically, I find most people need at least one whole day, although it is not unheard of some requiring two or even three days to get themselves sorted out. 

Often the GTD mind sweep is a great place to start, but I have found setting up a framework to collect and organise your stuff is a better place to start. After all, if you follow the concept of dumping everything on your mind into an in basket at the end of the process you have an in basket full of stuff and nowhere to organise it. 

Selecting what tools you want and what storage you want to use, I feel is a better place to start. This way if the tools you select are new to you you can be learning to use those as you collect and organise - a sort of killing two birds with one stone. Part of a great system is you know how to use your tools properly and more importantly your use of them is fast. 

Once you have the framework in place you need to gather all the stuff you have around you that needs doing. Go through your email, go through any inboxes you have for notes and go through any bits of paper you may have collected that have ideas, tasks or events on them. Get then all in the right place. 

Set up your calendar to work for you too. Your calendar is the anchor that brings everything together. Your calendar is what tells you what needs to be done and when and how much time you have available each day for the work that needs doing. This helps you to get realistic about what you can achieve each day. 

Okay, so you have taken the plunge. You put a stop to all your inputs for one day, you have a framework in place and you are ready to reopen the floodgates and allow stuff to restart. How do you get yourself to stick with your system? 

Two words... self-discipline. 

Yes, you are going to need a lot of it. You are going to have to install some new habits and to do that you will need self-discipline and, according to research, sixty-six days to install those habits. That is going to be hard. You are going to fall off the wagon and you are going to slip up on some days. But just because you fall off the wagon or you slip up occasionally, doesn't mean you don't get back up and carry on the journey. Getting back up and continuing is part of the process. We all slip up from time to time, but the important thing is you keep going. 

Really, all you need to focus on is collecting and giving yourself ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day to organise what you collected and plan your day. Collecting is just something you do. Sure, you may have to remind yourself from time to time to collect something, but it does not take long to get into that habit. And as for finding those ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day for organising, well… If you can’t find ten to twenty minutes then you have bigger problems than productivity and time management. Schedule that time on your calendar. Pick a time at the end of the day and create a recurring event with a notification that comes up to remind you. When that notification comes up, stop what you are doing and begin organising and planning. 

If you need to go back and finish off some work, that’s okay. The important thing is you have processed and you have a plan for the next day. 

You see, the plan you have for the next day gives you your purpose. It prepares your mind for the work you plan to do and you give yourself a fighting chance of actually getting those important things done. 

Now, for those of you who have not already done my FREE COD course, I highly recommend you take the course now. The course is just a basic introduction to COD (collect, organise and do) and it will give you a simple framework in which to build your own system. The forty minutes you take to do that course will save you a tonne of hours later and will help you to finally get you to a place you feel in control. 

Thank you, Richard, for your question and that you all for listening. Don’t forget if you have a question then you can email at or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes.

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