How To Simplify Your Productivity System When it Becomes Too Complex.

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Has your system has become overly complex and unwieldy over the years? This week’s podcast is all about getting back to basics.

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Episode 95

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 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. 

How To Process Your Inboxes Effectively

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This week I have a fantastic question about the difference between processing and doing and when to apply the two-minute rule.

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Episode 92

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. 

How To Stop Feeling You Have To Do More.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Podcast 77

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Get Started on Your Productivity Journey

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Podcast 76

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Frank, thank you for your fantastic question. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Podcast 74

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ep 67 | How To Get A System To Stick

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

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 67 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week we are visiting the various systems that many of us follow and how to overcome problems when we cannot get it to stick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Working With Podcast | Episode 59 | How To Manage Paper In A Digital World

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to handle a paper-based work environment when you are a digitally minded person.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 59 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question about handling multiple types of inputs. Not just the usual digital inputs such as email, PDF and Word files, but also paper-based applications, memos and even letters. Again, something I think many of you will have to deal with, particularly if you work in a more conservative industry. 

Before we get into the specifics of this question, I would like to point you in the direction of a video I made last month about planning for 2019. We are now just three weeks away from 2019 and I want you all to have the best year you have ever had, not just in terms of completing your projects and goals, but to be able to be better organised and more productive so you can spend more time with the people you really care about doing the things you want to do. I’ve put a link to that video in the show notes and I will be posting a follow-up video this week on how to turn your ideas into actual achievable goals and projects. The best way to make sure you get that video is to subscribe to my channel—which is full of tips, tricks and know-hows—so you never miss a thing. 

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

This week’s question comes from Tiago. Tiago asks: I really enjoy the beginners guide to creating your own COD System, it was very useful for my productivity, but I work in an environment that I need to process paper documents from clients, colleagues and process many emails every day. I try to have some hours to process my inboxes, digital and physical, but it’s hard to lead with everything. Do you have some tips for this type of work environment?

Thank you, Tiago for your wonderful question. It’s actually a question about something I think we all forget about sometimes and that is how to deal with not just the digital stuff we receive each day, but also the physical stuff that comes across our desks every day. 

You see whether you have read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and applied the principles or you have taken my COD productivity course, both of those resources focus on the digital side and less on the physical side. If you can get a copy of the original Getting Things Done book, that is more focused on the physical stuff because when the book was published in 2001, we were in the middle of the transition from a largely paper-based office environment to a more digital environment. 

Up until last year, I kept a shelve of physical folders next to my desk which contained client contracts, regular mail and my domestic bills I had paid amongst other things. It was a way for me to manage the paper I still received. From January this year, I transitioned to a 100% paperless environment and have found it much less cumbersome. How I handle that is when something physical comes in, whether it is a contract or a bill or something else, I will scan in immediately using my phone and an app called Scanbot. What Scanbot does is send anything I scan to a folder in iCloud where I will then process whatever I received into its correct digital place. Now the problem, of course, is that this creates another inbox that needs processing. As I am not scanning every day it would be very inefficient to check that ‘inbox’ on a daily basis, so after I scan the document I add a task to my to-do list manager’s inbox to tell me to process the folder. 

That worked for me, but it may not work for you. The kind and type of physical documents you receive may be quite varied in their nature so the first thing you will need to do is to review what kind of paper-based documents you receive regularly. When you do this you will find that they will fall into certain categories. For example, if you deal with client contracts, these naturally will fall under the category of contracts and will be associated with a specific client. If your accounts department insists on you providing physical receipts for your expenses report then that is another type of paper document you will need to retain. 

To do this I would recommend you keep a note of what types of paper-documents you receive over a typical week. Then at the end of the week go through your list and see what you have collected. 

Next, go out and buy yourself some folders from your local stationary store. If you really want to, you can also buy yourself a labeller machine too (that’s pure GTD for those of you who have read the book) and label (or write) the type of document you will store in each folder. So you may end up with folders labelled with “receipts”, “New client contracts”, “Invoices to pay”, “Invoices paid” “Applications” etc. The way you label these folders will be based on your review and the types of documents you receive each week. 

Of course, if you have specific client contracts you will probably have a file related to that client already, but at this stage, I am assuming you will need to process the details digitally first before the paper-based contract is moved to its final resting place in the clients or customer’s file. 

Now, in my pre-paperless days, I also had a folder I called “Inbox”. I used this for those random paper documents that did not have a specific place to go but needed some form of attention before being trashed or filed. An example of this would be invitations to an event or payslips for the various academies I worked with. 

Okay, so now what do you do with the paper that comes in. Here, the best way to deal with it is to get yourself two or three in-trays. I recently visited a stationary store and I noticed these are disappearing. A few years ago there was a whole aisle dedicated to inboxes and trays. Now there was a tiny section at the back of the store for them—A worrying development if you ask me—SO if you do not already have a set of these excellent collection tools, go out and buy yourself some. While paper-based stuff is declining, it still exists and so these trays are valuable. I have three metal based in-trays next to my desk and I use them every day. 

The top tray is my inbox. The middle tray is my ‘pending’ or “waiting for” tray—which I must confess gets little input these days as anything I am waiting for is likely to be a digital input.—And my bottom tray is where I keep my journal and notebooks when they are not open on my desk. 

Okay, so now you have everything set up, how do you use this setup on a daily basis?

Okay, so, when a paper-based document comes in you can drop it in your in-tray. Treat this as you would treat your digital inbox. Just drop the document into your tray. Now, here’s the crucial part. If you are going to process the document that day, then there’s nothing else for you to do until you process the document. However, if there is no urgency, the document just needs some action at some point in the near future, add a digital reminder into your digital to-do list. Seriously this is going to save more times than you know. As the paper comes in, stuff you put into your in-tray yesterday or the day before is going to sink to the bottom and can quite easily get missed. Your digital to-do list manager is with you everywhere you go, so you know you will have that reminder there as a trigger to do something with the document. I know some of you will argue that that is duplicating, but adding a digital to-do task has saved me so many times. 

But… As with all inboxes, whether they are digital or physical, they need to be processed regularly. I process all my task related inboxes daily, including my physical inbox, but this is really up to you. My Evernote inbox, for example, gets processed once a week, but I don’t put tasks in there, just notes. 

As an aside, I do have another use for my bottom in-tray. in addition to my journal and notebook, I also keep some cables in there. When I am doing a coaching call, I use my iPad and I keep my iPad’s charging cable in there. Often these calls will be around an hour in length and I don’t want my battery to go flat on me during the call. Before the call, I just pull out the cable and plug in my iPad. The worst thing that could happen is when I am about to start a call, I have to go looking for the charging cable. I can avoid this by having my cable in its rightful place—the bottom tray of my in-trays. 

When you think about it, handling paper-based documents should be a much easier task than handling digital documents. There are hundreds of years of practice and experience to draw on. In a way, I am very lucky to have begun my working life just as we were transitioning away from a paper-based office to a digital one. I was lucky enough to learn how to file manually using those big old-fashioned filing cabinets. A lot of how we manage our digital files these days is based on that tried and tested physical filing system. It worked then, it still works today. 

The difficulty these days is keeping on top of everything that needs doing. But sticking to basic principles of having an inbox to collect everything, spending some time at the end of the day organising everything you collected and spending the better part of your time focused on doing is the only way to manage these various inputs. Working in an environment that has to deal with paper means you need an additional inbox and that means you have an additional inbox to process at the end of the day. 

BUT… What you choose to work on can still be managed digitally. If you have a client’s contract to review and process, then you would add a task into your to-do list manager “Review and process Client A’s contract” and when that task comes due, you would pull the contract from where you filed it and begin the work. The key is to not over complicate things and certainly not have two or three to-do lists. You only need one to-do list and that will tell you what you need to work on next. 

An example is last night I had a call with a client and during that call, I took paper-based notes. After the call, as it was quite late, I tore off the notes sheet with my notes and put it in my inbox. I added a task in my to-do list manager’s inbox to process those notes and at some point today I will do that. Once those notes have been processed into Evernote, that sheet with the notes will be thrown away. I don’t need a duplicate of my notes. Once they are in Evernote they are where they need to be. Of course, I could just scan the sheet and add it to my Evernote, but I like my Evernote notes to be in a digital format so I can copy and paste text if I need to. To process those notes will take around ten to fifteen minutes, but that time is well spent as it will save a lot of time later when I need to find those notes. 

So there you go, Tiago. Hopefully, that has answered your question and given you some food for thought on how best to manage your paper-based stuff. The way to look at it is any paper-based documents that need some work doing, treat is as you would a digital-based document. Add it to your inbox and process it as you would normally do. If necessary, add a task to your to-do list manager and move on to your next piece of work. 

Thank you for the wonderful question, Tiago and thank you all for listening to this podcast. Next week, I will be dealing with how to plan out the new year so you have the best year ever, so if you haven’t created a list of all the things you would like to achieve next year, now’s the time to give some serious thought to that so you are ready to start building your plan for next year. 

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

The Working With Podcast | Episode 50 | Organise by Project or Area of Focus?

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about organising either by project or area of focus

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 50 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Yes indeed! We’ve reached number 50 in this podcast. I want to thank all you wonderful people for sending in your questions over the year we’ve been running and to thank you all for making this podcast such a success. So thank you very very much.

Before we get into this week’s question I’d just like to let you know that last Friday I launched a brand new course, From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days! It’s a course I have been planning for around six months now and came about because so many people have asked me about how to get themselves more productive. But more importantly, I created this course because life is not just about work, life is about having fun, experiencing amazing events, visiting fantastic places and spending quality time with the people you love and care about. Work is just one part of our lives and it should never be the dominating part of our lives. Check out the details of the course—there’s a link in the show notes—I’d love to see you in the course. 

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

This week’s question comes from Daniel. Daniel asks Carl, I recently saw your Todoist YouTube episode on the difference between projects and areas of focus. Could you tell me how you distinguish between the two ways of organising your to-do list? 

Thank you, Daniel, for the question and, Yes I would be delighted to share how I organise my to-dos between projects and areas of focus.

Firstly, I should explain the difference between projects and areas of focus. Traditionally, if you are following the GTD methodology for your productivity system, you would organise your tasks into projects. Projects act as a placeholder for your tasks—you group them together by their connecting project. For example, if you are planning a weekend trip with your family, the trip would become a project and the tasks you need to complete to organise the trip would be held in that project. 

An area of focus is a way to organise your tasks by the different roles you have. For instance, you may have a role as a parent, so you would have an area of focus called “parent” and any task related to your children would be placed inside your “parent” area of focus. Likewise, if you are a manager at work, you would have an area of focus called “manager” or “Management” and any task related to your role as a manager would be placed inside that area of focus. 

Now projects are quite simple to understand. However, projects can become a problem when you have too many. The problem I have found here is actually because of how the GTD book defines a project. According to David Allen (the author of Getting Things Done,) any task that requires more than one step is a project. This means that making an appointment to have your car serviced becomes a project—you need to decide where to take your car for the service (research) then find the number to make the appointment and then take the car in. That’s at least three tasks. That’s a project. But in our normal day to day life, booking our car in for a service really only needs our attention on one task - “book car in for service” — sure you still need to find the number, but that would only take a few minutes and calling the service centre is probably just a two minute task. The whole ‘project’ could very easily be completed in less than 5 minutes, outside the 2 minute rule (any task that would take two minutes or less to complete, do it now) 

A project like that on it’s own is not really the problem. The problem is when you have fifty or sixty projects like that. That’s when your project list becomes overwhelming and you start to miss deadlines and miss doing important tasks when they are due to be done. Not a good situation for a productive person such as yourself. 

Now, if you organised your tasks by areas of focus the same task—take the car in for service—would come under your area of focus, “maintenance”. Inside that area, you would just add the task “get car serviced” or “take car in for servicing”. You have a lot less decisions to make, and you will not be tempted to break down a simple task like getting your car serviced in to too many little steps. 

Now, I will confess this year, when I have done my three monthly systems review—when I review my whole system every three months and ask the question “how can I do this better?”—I have returned to the question of whether to go all in on areas of focus or stick with my hybrid system of projects and areas. I am still using a hybrid system, but my projects list has reduced a lot this year. I have found that almost all the tasks I collect each day can fall under an area of focus. My writing assignments from Lifehack, for example, have three tasks associated with each one. Plan out article, write article and edit article. I follow the same set of three tasks for my own blog and any guest posts I write. Plan, write, edit. So, any article I write now are placed in my “writer” area of focus. All I do is write out three tasks: Plan Lifehack article, Write Lifehack article and edit Lifehack article and drop them in my writing area of focus. I don’t need to create a separate project now for these writing assignments and that saves a lot of time. 

I suspect when I do my big review at the end of the year, I will move more of my projects into areas of focus. 

There are a few exceptions to this though. Each year I write a book. For me writing a book is a big project that is going to take up much of the year. There’s research to do, there’s writing the first draft and of course, there’s the editing, cover design and publishing to take care of. There are a lot of individual tasks that would be very hard to remember and would clutter up my writing area of focus. So the book I am writing becomes a stand alone project. 

Another task I would consider as a project is buying a car. I am planning on buying a new car in the near future. Now at the moment, my wife is studying her masters degree and we don’t need a car just yet. When she finishes her masters degree we will need a car, so I created an individual project for the purchasing of the car. Like writing a book, there are a lot of tasks associated with buying a car, there’s researching the kind of car we want to buy, type of engine, colour, where to buy from, insurance arrangements and so on. This to me is a genuine project and to put all those tasks inside an area of focus would likely cause a lot of confusion. 

Let me give you a real life scenario I have used for the last two years on how I use a hybrid system of projects and areas of focus. I have an area of focus called “online courses” inside that area, I keep tasks associated with the maintenance of my learning centre (where I have all my courses) and any marketing campaign tasks. Each year I will launch a number of new courses as well as update some existing courses. The course I launched last week, From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days started life out as an idea in Evernote about eight months ago. Up until the end of August, that course remained in Evernote with a corresponding task in my online course areas of focus that said: “continue developing From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery”. 

In Evernote, I added ideas, created a lesson list and an outline. At the end of August, the course became a stand alone project in Todoist. All the tasks I needed to complete in order to get the course recorded, edited and published were kept inside that project. Slides needed creating, the course description needed writing and the marketing campaign needed organising. There are a lot of individual tasks associated with creating such an online course. In total it takes around 80 hours of writing, recording, editing and publishing. Because of the work involved and the number of tasks required, something like creating and publishing an online course will always be a project. 

Once the course is published, though, the maintenance of the course will be moved over to my online course area of focus. Publishing the course ends the project. When I hit the “publish” button and send out the emails to the people who asked for more information—that ends the project. 

So in reality it is unlikely having a system organised solely on projects or areas of focus will work. A better way to organise your system is to use a hybrid system. Big, task intensive projects, are better set up as individual projects. It helps you to stay focused on the outcome and when you do your reviews you can monitor how you are progressing. Small, low task projects, you will find are better organised by area of focus. Making an appointment to see you dentist for a check up, that can be in your “health and fitness” area of focus. Organising a weekend trip with your kids can be placed inside you “family” are of focus etc. 

So how do you create your areas of focus? Well, that really does depend on you and your lifestyle. Basic area of focus lists usually contain things like “family”, Health and Fitness”, “personal development”, “social” and “maintenance” for your domestic life. For you professional life an area of focus list may contain things like “manager”, “Professional development”, “staff issues”, “sales”, “marketing” etc. It will, of course, depend on the type of work you do. 

One way to help you decide whether something is a project or an area of focus is through the deadline date. If something has a number of tasks and has what I would describe as a hard deadline, then I would consider that to be a project. If something has a vague deadline, ie the deadline is less important or is a bit vague, then I would consider that to be an area of focus. Of course, most areas of focus never end. Our car will always need an annual service, we will always need a medical or dental checkup every six months or so etc. But really, whether something is an area of focus or not will depend entirely on your way if life and the way your brain works. 

Well, I hope that answers your question, Daniel and thank you for sending it in. 

If you have a question you would like answering on this show, please send in your question either by email or by Dming on Facebook or Twitter and I will be very happy to answer your question. All the links are in the show notes. 

Thank you very much for listening to this show. Don’t forget to check out my latest course, From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days! I am sure it will be a huge help to you and the way you live your life. 

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

The Working With Podcast | Episode 49 | How To Reduce The Number Of Decisions You Make Each Day

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about making decisions.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 49 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a wonderful question about the choices we make each day and how to make better choices so we can become better organised and more productive.

But, before we get in to the question I would just like to let you all know that my 2018 edition of Build Your Own Apple Productivity system in now available and is on an early-bird discount of $29.99. This course is for those of you in the Apple ecosystem and who don’t want the expense of subscriptions and purchases of third-party apps or risk the possibility of an app closing down or being bought out. This course takes you through the steps to build your own COD (collect, organise and do) productivity system using just the Apple productivity apps—Reminders, Notes and Calendar. It’s a great course and one that can bullet proof your system and help you to become better organised and more productive.

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

This week’s question comes from Karen. Karen asks, I’ve been trying to implement GTD for a few years now, but I always have problems with all the decisions I have to make. Things like where does this task go? What do I do with this note? And is this a project or a single actions task? Do you have any advice on how to make better decisions?

Great question, Karen and a question many people have about getting started with GTD (that’s Getting Things Done, a book by David Allen). 

GTD does often feel like one big decision making system and that can become overwhelming at times, particularly in the early days of setting up a GTD system. When you have collected all your stuff into your inbox and start processing it. The basic questions to ask about something in your inbox are “what is it?” and “what do I need to do with it to get it done?”. These questions might seem simple enough, but the “what do I need to with it to get it done?” can often lead to multiple decisions that need to be made. Decisions such as: what do I need to do next? And, where do I put this task? Which project does it belong to? or which folder do I put this note in? All these questions and decisions can lead to decision fatigue and that is not good if you want to be performing at your best every day. 

So, what do you do? 

Well, the best strategy I have with this is to restrict the decisions I have to make. For example, when I am processing my inbox at the end of the day, all I need to decide is if something is work related or personal. If it is work related then it can only be related to a piece of content I am working on or related to a client or student I am working with. 

Now here is where the problem most commonly appears. If you have your productivity set up as a mix of active projects, someday/maybe projects and areas of focus you are essentially giving yourself far too many decisions to make. When you process everything you have collected you are going to be faced with too many questions. Questions such as “is this related to a project?” or “is this related to an area of focus”. Where can I do this task?, Do I need to talk to someone? If so, who? Etc. 

A better way to reduce the number of decisions you need to make is to choose to go with a system focused on your areas of focus such as “manager”, family, hobbies and interests. What I have found is when we create organisation structures around our areas of focus it is far easier to make decisions about what something is related to. For example, if I need to do a student evaluation, that obviously comes under my roll as a teacher. If I need to talk to my wife about an upcoming trip, then that task comes under my area of family. It also means I never have to decide whether something is a project or a single action all I have to decide is what roll something is related to. 

What I have found in the past is anything could be described as a project in GTD terms. In GTD a project is anything that requires two or more steps to complete. Sounds simple enough, but making an appointment to see the dentist could arguably be described as a project because there is more than one step required. Find a time to go to dentist, find dentist’s number, call dentist and make appointment, go to dentist for appointment. That’s three or four steps. So, that means in strict GTD terms, that’s a project. But in reality, how long would it take to make an appointment to see your dentist? Probably less than two minutes. So just get your phone, call your dentist and make the appointment. Job done. For me, I have a recurring date in my calendar set for every six months to make a dentist appointment. It’s not in my to-do list at all. I see the reminder on my calendar, “make appointment for dental checkup” I pick up my phone and call the dentist and make the appointment. 

Decision fatigue is real. We are having to make decisions all the time. This is why often at the end of a day we find it difficult to decide what to eat for dinner. I must admit, I take this to an extreme. I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner Sunday to Thursday and allow myself freedom to eat whatever I want on a Friday and Saturday. Not only do I find this is better for my health—I make sure I eat only healthy foods Sunday to Thursday—it also means I have no decisions to make about what to eat. (It helps that I am not a foodie) I also exercise at the same time each day, and I plan out my exercise schedule for the week when I do my weekly review. This means I do not have to make any decisions during the week about when i will exercise and what kind of exercise I will do. 

Building routines and buying the same types of groceries is another way to help reduce the decisions you have to make too. I buy the same ground coffee from Starbucks each week (Kenyan) for my morning cup of coffee. I also buy the same English tea from the same company—Yorkshire Tea from the British Corner Shop (an online expats shopping service) I wake up at the same time each day and follow a set routine. Spend the first hour of the day studying Korean. As these are baked in routines, no decision has to be made. They just happen. 

The key here is to find ways of reducing the decisions you have to make by building routines around your daily activities. If you follow my advice about doing a daily ten minute planning session at the end of the day, then fix that at a set time each day. For me, I do my Golden Ten between 10:30 and 10:45pm Sunday to Thursday. Again, I keep Friday and Saturday free to be able to go out with my friends and family or to just relax on the sofa and enjoy a good old British drama. Once something has become a routine, you no longer have to make decisions about it. 

Creating routines and buying the same type of groceries each week may sound boring, but I have found it makes my life much simpler. I buy my jeans, sweaters and t-shirts from the same companies. This means when I decide I want to buy a new sweater, all I have to do is go to N Peal of London and make a decision on colour and style. If I did not have a favoured sweater supplier, I would have to search around for a company that makes the type of sweater I want, I would then have to decide which size to buy and check they deliver to Korea. To me that’s such a waste of time and decision making. Instead, I use the same company, I know my sizes there and the only decision I need to make really is what style. (I generally like navy blue and grey colours for sweaters) 

The trick is to look for things that can be turned in to routines and habits and then turn them in to routines and habits. Once you have that achieved, you no longer need to make decisions about them. I can give you more examples where I use this method. If I go to a coffee shop, I always order a capucchno. If I go on a business trip abroad I always stay in the same hotel brand (Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express) I generally fly using the same airline (Korean Air) and all my electronic devices are Apple. This just means when I need to fly somewhere I only have to search one airline site, if I need a new phone or computer I only have to decide which Apple device to buy, and if I need to stay in another city, Holiday Inn is most likely to have a hotel in that city. It’s simple, easy and because I use the same companies like Korean Air and Holiday Inn, I get reward points and receive very good discounts. 

All the decisions we have to make on a daily basis is a consequence of the wonderful world we live in today. We have a lot of choices and that is great. But as individuals it is up to us to reduce the decisions we make each day by building set routines and where possible using the same companies that offer the kind of services or products we like and trust. Doing this will help you reduce the decisions you need to make each day and it will prevent you from suffering from decision fatigue. I should point out you don’t have to take this to the extremes Steve Jobs did or Mark Zukerberg does today by wearing the same clothes each day. Although it is a good idea to decide what you will wear the next day the night before. That can really help reduce decision making, you don’t have to wear the same clothes every day… No really!

When I hope that answers your question, Karen and thank you for sending in your question. Don’t forget, it for have a question you would like answering, then please get in touch either by email ( or via Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes.

Thank you very much for listening to this episode of the Working With Podcast. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

The Working With Podcast | Episode 45 | Waiting For and Next Actions Contexts

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about waiting for and next actions.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 45 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s episode I have a GTD specific question, so for those of you not familiar with GTD, GTD stands for Getting Things Done and is a concept from a book written by David Allen. A great concept and a concept that underpins my whole productivity system. If you haven’t read the book, I strongly recommend you do. It will set you up on an amazing journey. 

Before we get started, in case you missed it, I published the 2018 version of my Email Productivity Mastery course last week. This course updates last years course with better audio quality, something that was really bothering me and I have also added a number of new lessons that include setup guides for Gmail and Outlook and a new folder called “reference” which I have included following feedback from students last year. It’s a great course and is currently on its early-bird discount. So, if you want to get your email under control and to start loving email, get yourself enrolled today. This is one course you will definitely not regret purchasing. 

Okay, let’s get on with this week’s show, so that means it’s time for me to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Dimitris. Dimitris asks: “Hi Carl, how do you use the next actions and waiting for contexts or labels?” 

Great question, Dimitris. Recently I have covered these in my Working With Todoist series of videos on YouTube, but I think a deeper explanation for those of you not using Todoist may help you get a better understanding of just how powerful these two contexts can be in your productivity system. 

Let us look at the waiting for context first as I think this one is probably the easiest to understand. I use the waiting for label for anything I need reminding about in the future that is dependent on something or someone else. So for example, if I order a new pair of shoes from my favourite bookmaker in the U.K.—I’ve always wanted to say that—they will send me a confirmation email which will include my shipping number and the link to the site where I can track my delivery. That email will be saved to my waiting for folder in my email app and a copy will be forwarded to Todoist. Now, the thing is, I don’t have to send it to Todoist, I do so because in Todoist I have a daily dashboard view, which includes all the things I am waiting for. By forwarding the email to Todoist, I can include it in my daily dashboard. 

Another example here would be if I send out an email to a group of people asking them all to send me a report on their weekly sales activity. Now this email could mean I will be waiting for ten or eleven people to reply. What I do here is the exact same thing. I add the email to my waiting for folder in my email app and I also send a copy of the email to Todoist. Now in Todoist, I have the ability to add notes and in there I can add the list of people I am waiting for a reply from and when someone replies I can cross off their names from the list. 

Of course, I could use my original email and the replies to do the same thing, but for me seeing a simple list is much easier than reading through different emails looking to see who replied. 

And that’s pretty much how I use the waiting for context every day. I should point out that the additional step of sending a copy to Todoist is not completely necessary. I only do so because I have my daily dashboard filter in Todoist that tells me what I have planned to do that day and what I am waiting for. I did a video on how I have my dashboard set up and I will put a link to that video in the show notes for those of you curious about it.

You can use the waiting for context for pretty much anything—things you bought online, things you have requested from colleagues or information you are waiting for. The only thing I would say though is remember to clear it out. I clean up my folders as part of my weekly review, trying to remember to clean things up every day can become a burden I don’t need. With email, it is easy because a reply to my original email will allow me to move the email to another place if I need to and in Todoist I can just complete the task. 

Now on to the next actions context. This one seems to cause a lot of confusion for people because technically, any task that needs doing is a next action right? Well, yes and no. If the task can be completed now, then yes. But if the task is dependant on another task being completed first then no. For example, if I have two tasks inside a “repaint the living room” project, one task says “ask partner to decide on new colour” and another task says “buy paint”, then until you know what colour paint to buy you cannot go out and buy the paint. So the next action can only apply to “ask partner to decide on new colour”. In it’s simplest form that’s how the next action label works. 

However, there are numerous difficulties if you apply the next action context to all tasks you could theoretically complete right now, one of which is the size of the list. It would likely become a huge list of tasks and whenever you have a huge list of tasks you become numb to it and overwhelmed. Once that happens the list becomes useless. You won’t look at it. 

So, a better way to handle this list is to only add one task from each of your active projects as your next action. Once you complete that task you can either add the next actions label to the very next task you need to do, or you can do it when you do your weekly review. It would all depend on when the project needs completing by. 

Now, you next actions context is only useful to you if you are reviewing it regularly. I review mine every day. There are two reasons for this. The first is because I frequently get all my objective and focus tasks completed early. That’s largely because I am an early riser. I usually have an hour or two at the end of my working day to work on other things. So I open up my next actions context and begin at the top and do as many tasks as I can. Usually, it’s only two or three, but that’s two or three project tasks that I would not have thought about doing had I not looked at my next actions context. The second reason is so I can see what projects are coming due. My projects are ordered in the deadline order. So the project at the top of my project list has the nearest deadline and the project at the bottom has the farthest away deadline. This means my next actions list orders my tasks by project order so the tasks at the top have the closest deadline. This is likely to be dependant on which to-do list manager you are using. But if you can try to make sure tasks are ordered by deadline. 

When you start using your next actions context diligently, you will find you no longer need to date all your tasks. This has the benefit that only tasks that must be completed on a specific day will have a date attached to it. All other tasks, tasks you would like to complete, but it would not be a problem if you didn’t, don’t need a date. You will see them if you are reviewing your next actions list every day. 

Another benefit of the next actions context is when you do your planning at the end of the day. You have a ready prepared list from which to select tasks to do the next day. These, of course, will be based on how busy your schedule is for the day. All you need to do is add the next day’s date to the tasks you want to complete and you can be safe in the knowledge that tasks that need doing are getting done when they need to be done. 

So the final part of all this is when do you make sure the next action context is added to your tasks. Well, that really is up to you. I personally, do it on a Sunday when I do my weekly review. Because I review everything I know what projects need a lot of focus and I know what needs to be done the next week. I can, therefore, make sure I am working on the things that need to be worked on. As I complete tasks in individual projects, I can add the next actions context when I have finished working on that project for the day. For me, this has never been a problem. It takes less than 2 seconds to add the context. Seriously, that should never be a concern for you. 

If you are doing your weekly reviews, are focused on what’s important and know where you are with your projects using the waiting for and next actions context can be a real boost for you. It allows you to relax and be less stressed because you know what needs doing next and by when. Your daily to-do lists are shorter and this prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and becoming numb to your list. But… It does mean you are going to have to trust your system and that means sticking with one app, one system and trusting yourself that you will spend the necessary time each day to plan and maintain things. 

Good luck and thank you, Dimitris, for your question. I have to admit there have been a few questions similar to this recently and I hope this episode has helped you to better understand how waiting for and next actions work. 

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

The Working With… Podcast | Episode 40 | How To Manage A HUGE List of Projects

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In this week’s episode, I answer a question about managing a long list of projects. 

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 40 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question that may not affect everyone all the time, but I think it can become a problem from time to time. That is the problem of project overwhelm. Having a very long list of active projects. How do you manage them without missing something important? 

But before we get into this week’s question I’d like to thank all of you who have enrolled in this year’s Time And Life Mastery Course. It’s so very exciting to see so many of you there and I am convinced this course is going to change your life for the better. If you haven’t enrolled, It’s not too late. Details are in the show notes. 

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

This week’s question comes from Denrael. Denrael asks: how do you organise when you can have literally hundreds of open projects. I run a Pro Service group, and at any time, we could be engaged in, planning or bidding up to 100 different engagements.

That’s a Juicy question, Denrael. Thank you. 

Before we get into this question allow me to remind you all that we only have twenty-four hours a day. So it really doesn’t matter whether you have ten projects or 100. You will always be limited by the amount of time you have each day. This also means it doesn’t matter how many tasks you have on your daily task list, you are ultimately limited by the amount of time you have each day. So no matter how heroic you think you are, the powerful force of time will always stop you. 

However, for anyone suffering from project overwhelm here are a few tips that might help you become less overwhelmed and more in control.

The first step is to go through your projects and see if they really are projects. A lot of projects have become projects by accident and a five-minute spell focused on the project could get it completed and archived. 

As you go through your projects ask yourself a number of questions. Questions like “is this an active project?" Or "is this project really important to me?" What you are trying to do is reduce your active project list as much as you can. In a sense, you are pruning so you can give yourself space to breathe and grow. This is a place where you are going to have to be very strict with your criteria. Be very clear about what an active project is and apply that rule very very strictly. 

Another way to reduce an active project list is to use a “Someday | Maybe” folder. I find when my active project list starts to bulge it’s because I have a lot of “I wish to do” projects. The problem with “I wish to do” projects is they are often not important and were created on a whim. After the passage of a little time, your enthusiasm for the project diminishes and if that is the case either delete it, archive it or just put it into your Someday | Maybe folder. You can always come back to it again later if you wish. 

In your specific case Denrael, I see a potential problem. If you are using a task manager app to manage all your customer engagements you are probably using the wrong tool. When you have “literally hundreds of open projects” relate to different customers and clients that sounds very much like a job for a Client Relationship Management system. It is possible to manage a large number of clients in a task management app, but you are going to have to do a lot of hacking and modifying and there is going be the need for a lot of updating. That alone is going to take up time. Time you probably don’t have. 

I would suggest you look into a robust CRM system to manage all your customers, proposals and bids. That what a CRM system was designed to do and the best ones do that job very well. 

Another way to manage a long list of open projects and one of my favourites is to focus your attention on the labels or contexts. The Getting Things Done system was designed for a long list of open projects because you don’t focus on the project you focus on the tool, place or person you need in order to complete a task. In your case, you may have a list of bids to follow up on. If you create a label or context such as “follow up” you can access this list every day to check which proposals or bids you need to follow up on next. You can break it down still further by creating labels such as “Follow up by Phone” and “Follow up by email” if a simple follow up label generates a long list. 

The reality is if you are having to manage a long list of open projects you have to get very smart. Planning what needs to get done the next day instead of planning what you would like to get done is crucial. But you also need to be looking out further to the rest of the week and the whole month. What projects must be completed this week? What projects must be completed this month? These questions need to be answered every week and every month if you are going to stay on top of everything. 

You need to be very clear about what “completed” actually means too. My guess is just sending out a bid, following it up a few days later is not really completing the project. A completed project would be the bid being accepted and the service being delivered. The bidding process is just the start. The outcome you desire is the bid being accepted, a service being delivered and the money owed coming into your business. So how you structure the project may be another area where you can slim down your projects list. You can divide up a project into the different stages. For example, “the bidding stage”, “the delivery stage” and “the collection stage”. Again, if you create labels for each stage it will allow you to filter tasks down to what needs to happen next on each project. These tasks can then be assigned to the right people within your company. 

In that example, your projects would be organised by customer or client. Having a templated project you can call up, duplicate and assign to a new customer will save a lot of time and you can pre-populate the project with your process. Most to-do list managers allow you to create templates and the more advanced to-do list managers will allow you to assign dates in the form of “start plus 3 days” etc. This would then allow you to remain focused on your daily task list as that would be an accurate account of what needs to happen that day. 

For any of this to work seamlessly requires a lot of good habits. A daily review of work done and work that still needs to be done is a must. On top of that a strong weekly review that assigns some clear objectives on your projects. For example, “get bid to Client B out by Wednesday” and “follow up on Client C on Monday” these tasks need to be prioritised and dated so they come up on the right day allowing you to have enough time to do the necessary work to complete the objective. 

There are a few other, little things that can be done to save time. Automating as much of the work as possible using tools such as IFTTT or Zappier and templating forms and regularly written emails can save a lot of time and effort. But it all comes back to the one thing you cannot control. Time. 

No matter how much work anyone has, we will always be restricted by the amount of time we have each day. The key is to find ways of reducing the time it takes to complete tasks we have to perform on a regular basis. Thinking in terms of what you are trying to achieve rather than focusing on the tasks can help. This can reduce the number of steps it takes to get a project to completion. Is the goal to follow up on a bid or is the goal to get the business? If the goal is to get the business, one phone call may achieve that, rather than a ten-day follow-up process involving three emails and a phone call. 

Managing a long list of projects is always going to be a challenge and there is no one way that will take away those projects. If a project needs doing, it needs doing. Our goal is to find better and more efficient ways to get those projects completed. Never forgetting what your objective is will always help to reduce the list of tasks. A mistake so many people make is they focus on the tasks and not the outcome. Always remember what the desired outcome of the project is, be very clear about what it is you are trying to accomplish and you will go a long way to making even the longest project list manageable. 

I hope that has helped, Denrael. 

Thank you all for listening and please don’t forget if you have a question about productivity, time management, goal setting or self-development then please get in touch by email, Dming me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be very happy to answer your questions. 

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

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 36 | What It Takes To Become A Productive Person.

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about What it takes to become productive.

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 36 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this episode, I have a wonderful question about productivity. I suppose it’s an obvious question, really, but one we very rarely ask. So in this episode not only are we going to ask the question, we are going to answer it too. 

Before we get to this week’s question though, I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you who enrolled in my special offer last week. Now it’s time for you to get down and do some studying and building. So good luck with that and if you have any questions about setting up your own systems, then feel free to get in touch. 

Don’t forget, if you want to discover a system that is flexible and is customisable to work for you, then get yourself enrolled in my FREE beginners guide to building your own productivity system. It’s around 45 minutes long and will give you all the tips and tricks you need to create your own, bullet-proof productivity and time management system. The link to the course is in the show notes. 

And, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, then get in touch. I’m more than happy to answer any question on productivity, goal setting or self-development so send those questions in. You can ask me via Twitter, Facebook or direct via email. 

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

This week’s question comes from Janet. Janet asks: I’ve struggled with becoming more productive for years and was wondering what you think is the skill needed to become a more productive person. 

Thank you, Janet, for the question. A very good question indeed and a question that had me thinking quite hard.

For me, the single most essential skill required to become a more productive person, if you can call it a skill, is self-discipline. 

You need the self-discipline to keep going with your system even on those days when you don’t feel in the mood. 

You see becoming a more productive person is not a case of cleaning up your desk and tidying up your files one day. Becoming a more productive person is a way of life. If you have spent most of your adult life in a disorganised state where you cannot even remember where you placed your car keys every morning, then that is nothing to do with whether or not you are a productive person, that is more a case of not having the discipline to put your keys in the same place every evening when you return home. And it takes discipline to develop the habit of putting your keys in the same place every time. 

The basics of a good productivity system is what I call COD - Collect, Organise and Do. To collect everything that comes your way into your inbox, to then organise everything you collected that day into its rightful place, and to do the work you planned to do is not a difficult concept. In fact, it is a logical, simple concept. Putting it into practice day after day doesn’t take a PhD degree either. It’s simple. What it does take though is discipline. The discipline to collect everything, to organise it and to do it when you want to get it done, rather than need to get it done. 

We all have those days when we just don’t feel in the mood. When we just want to stay in bed and do nothing but watch TV all day. We are human after all. But what I have noticed in the most productive people I’ve met is they know exactly what they want to accomplish each day and they start the day with that knowledge. It gives them a kind of energy to get themselves out of bed and start the day full of energy. It’s as if they see each new day as a new opportunity to achieve something fantastic. And that’s true. Each new day does give you a new opportunity to create something very special. 

Another trait I’ve seen with very productive people is they are in complete control of their calendars. They know what’s on their calendar because they put it there. I notice this with my own dentist. She’s an incredibly productive person. All her scary tools are placed exactly where she needs them and she carefully plans out each treatment course with each patient. Her appointments calendar is linked to her personal calendar so she only allows appointment times that will fit into her lifestyle. Even though, as a dentist, her day is made up of patient appointments, those appointment times fit around her schedule and not given at the whim of patients or anyone else. She allows enough flexibility on her calendar to deal with emergencies and I’ve never seen her overstretched or stressed. 

And that’s one of the benefits of being in control of your calendar. You can keep things flexible, and prevent anything going on there that you have no real desire to do. It also means when you do your Golden Ten at the end of the day you can trust that what is on your calendar is what you want to do and not something other people want you to do but you have not desire to do yourself. 

But it always comes back to self-discipline. You need the self-discipline to collect everything that has meaning to you, to organise that stuff into its appropriate place and to just get on with the work whether or not you are in the mood to do so. You need the self-discipline to say no to the things you do not want to do—even if that is saying no to your boss or clients. 

It’s hard, I’m certainly not suggesting otherwise. But although it is hard, it is a skill or trait worth developing. Because when you do have the discipline to do the collecting, organising and doing as well as saying no to the things you feel will not take you or your life further forward, you will find you begin to feel a lot less stressed and much happier. You will feel nothing can stop you achieving the things you want to achieve and you start to get a lot more of your important work done. 

So how do you become more disciplined with your productivity system? 

The best place to start is with your collecting. Take a weekend and have a look at how you have your collection tools set up. Are they apps on your phone, or is it a simple notebook. Ask yourself: is this the best way to collect everything? Look at your general collection system—by that I mean if you have an idea, how would you collect it right now while you are listening to this podcast. Is it easy? Is it fast? If not, find a way to make it easier and faster. Once you are happy with your collection system, try it for a week. Make sure you are not resisting. Make sure that you do it every time every day. Tweak it if necessary but make sure you are doing it every time. 

For the organising part, get that on your calendar. Choose a time at the end of the day when you know you will not likely be disturbed and block a fifteen-minute segment in your calendar. I personally block 10pm every weekday to do my organising. I don’t schedule calls and I don’t allow anything to stop me from taking ten to fifteen minutes to organise every thing I collected that day. I have actually made a routine out of the time between 9:30pm and 10:30pm. I take my dog out for a walk at 9:30pm and when we get back around 10pm I do my organising. I’m usually finished organising by 10:15pm and I then do a little reading or watch a short video before heading off to bed at 10:30pm. Creating a pre-bedtime routine is a great way to build your discipline. Once the routine becomes a habit, you no longer feel you have to push yourself to get on with it. 

Finally, on the doing part, well that is a natural progression from your Golden Ten. (that’s the ten minutes at the end of the day when you organise and plan the next day) once you have completed your Golden Ten you should have a clear view of what you want to get accomplished tomorrow and what your two objectives for the day are. Once you have those written down or onto your to-do list you can go to bed happy knowing that the day ahead is planned and you are ready.

Sure, all this does take time to build up the routines. But before they become a habit and a routine, you need the discipline to follow through and do this every day. After a week or so it starts to feel natural and after two or three months you are well on your way to making being a productive person just a part of who you are. 

Changing old habits is hard. I know. I’ve been there. But change is how we grow into better people. The discipline and effort are well worth it because of what you become. Yes, you will fall down, you will slip into old habits, but the important thing is you get back into developing your routines and habits as quickly as you can. It will feel like hard work when you start. There will be days when you think it’s just not worth it. That’s when you need to tell yourself that the effort will reward you massively in the future and tomorrow is another day with another attitude and another chance to prove to yourself you can change and you can become more productive. 

When you become more disciplined about how you organise your life, you will find there will be other areas of your life you can change too. Areas you are not happy with and with your new found discipline and productivity skills you will find your whole life will change in so many positive ways. 

Good luck, Janet and again, thank you so much for your question. 

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

The Working With … Podcast | Episode 35 | The Most Important Part Of GTD (Getting Things Done)

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 35 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question about GTD and what I think is the most important part of the whole GTD philosophy. It’s a great question because all five parts are important in their own way. But there is one part that if you don’t do it, nothing else will work. 

Before I get into the answer though, I want to let you guys know that I recently updated my learning centre. I’m very excited about this because it takes me to the next stage of my online course development for all of you. To celebrate this launch, I have a HUGE sale on my bundled courses. I have taken off over 50% these courses and you can take advantage of this special offer. All you need to do is go to the special offer page—a link to which is in the show notes—and buy yourself a bundle. When you do buy a bundle you will get all future updates for free as well as any new courses I do. You are in a way, inflation proofing yourself. So go on. Pick yourself up a bundle today. The offer ends at Midnight on Monday, but for you wonderful people I have secretly extended the offer to lunch-time on Tuesday. 

If you really want to get yourself better organised and become more productive, this is a wonderful opportunity to get yourself some valuable education, an education you can take with you everywhere you go. 

Okay, onto this week’s question. So 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 Paul in Canada. Paul asks, Hi Carl. I’m a big fan of GTD (Getting Things Done) and was wondering what, in your opinion is the most important part of GTD?

Before I go… Don’t forget to get yourself enrolled in one of the bundles. This will be something you will never regret.

Good question and this is a question I have pondered over the years. I’ve switched between all parts of the GTD process, but in the end, to me, there really is only one part that is crucial. That is the collecting (or capture in GTD speak) 

The reason for this is if you are not collecting your commitments, appointments and ideas, it doesn’t matter how elaborate or beautiful or well organised your system is, if you have nothing to put in it, it is never going to work. The whole point of any productivity system is you are getting out of your mind the stuff that you are trying to remember and to get them into a trusted place where you can make decisions about them when you have more time. If you are not collecting anything, then you have no decisions to make and you will be trying to remember everything in your head. And, as we all know, that is not the best place to keep stuff you want to remember or make a decision about later. 

Part of the reason many people feel overwhelmed and overstressed is that they are trying to remember everything in their heads. Now out heads were not designed to be memory banks. Our heads were designed to recognise patterns—we walk outside and we see rain, that tells us we need to either put on raincoats or grab an umbrella. Or if we absolutely must remember to take a book to work with us, we place the book in front of the front door so that our brain will see it in the morning and say: “ that doesn’t look right. Why is the book there? Oh yes, I must take that book to work with me” Our brain is seeking out patterns and things that are out of place. That triggers a response and that response results in an action. 

The problem here is when we try and trust our brains to remember things like call that customer, reply to that email and buy milk. All these little tasks have no triggers unless they are written down in a trusted place. When you’ve had a long day at work, fighting fires and dealing with all the issues, as you go home you are thinking about all the things you need to remember for tomorrow, you are not going to remember to buy the milk. Our brains are just not that good at things like that. 

When you have a great collecting system though, you can get all those things you have to remember out of your head. When you trust the place you put them in, then you start to make progress. 

Of course, if you’re not processing or organising what you collected, then things will fall apart at that level, but if you don’t collect, then everything falls apart and you will feel overwhelmed and stressed trying to remember everything that comes your way. 

Once you understand the importance of collecting everything in a trusted place, you can then begin to develop ways of making the collecting process as fast and easy as possible. In my early days of GTD, I carried a little pocket sized notebook with me everywhere, but I soon realised that was just another thing to remember to take with me. It wasn’t the most efficient way to do it. When the iPhone finally launched in Korea in 2009, that was when I really got my collecting system working. 

Our phones are always with us. We carry them everywhere and smartphones are basically pocket-sized powerful computers. In this little device, we have access to all the information we could want. We also have the ability to collect any information we want in almost any format. That could be text, a photo, a PDF file, an email or a webpage. There’s no need to be carrying around scraps of paper, napkins or any other random materials with scribbled down numbers and don’t forgets. Everything can be collected in one place. 

That though does create it own challenges. Yes, you can now collect everything very easily in almost any format, but where do you store it? Where can you collect all this stuff so when you need to see it you know exactly where it is? Now, this is the reason I have always advocated creating as simple a system as you can. I like to think of it as my “one project” one app for one purpose. 

What I mean by this is having one app for each of the different types of things you collect. So, if I make an appointment, it goes straight into my calendar. If I have an idea, it goes straight into my notes app and if I have a commitment or task it goes into my to-do list manager. 

So, in my case: random thoughts and ideas - Evernote. Tasks and commitments - Todoist and events and appointments - calendar. Each app has a purpose, each app deals with a different purpose. 

Now, I know many of you may be thinking, couldn’t you do that with one app and sure this is possible. But I’m thinking a little more long-term than that. When I am organising, I like to compartmentalise. When I am organising my tasks and projects I want to be working in my task manager. When I am developing ideas and projects I like the free-flowing functionality Evernote gives me. And of course, when I need to know where I am going to be, I will look at my calendar. It’s just the way I like to compartmentalise. You, of course, may be different and prefer everything collected in one place. There really is no right or wrong way of doing this. The important thing is whichever way you do it, it works for you. 

So, if collecting is the most important part of any productivity system, the next question to ask is how do I optimise my collecting system?—How do I make collecting as easy and fast as possible? 

One of the things I’ve found over the years is if your collection system is not efficient and fast you will not collect everything. You will continue to trust your head to remember things. When you optimise your collecting for speed and ease, there is no reason to resist and you will soon develop the habit of getting everything into your system. 

Now I do a complete review of my system every three months. I look at all areas of my system, from collecting and organising to doing (the COD system - Collect, organise, do) But the one area I spend most time on is looking at how I collect things. I look to see if I resist collecting certain types of stuff. If I am, I work out the reasons why and what can be done to remove the barrier. Most of the time it is because I have too many steps. I apply what I call “the subway test”. This is where I ask: can I collect an idea, task or appointment while transferring trains while on the Seoul subway system? Essentially can I capture using one hand and my phone? If the answer is yes, I see if there are any ways this could be sped up. Using Siri for example, or are there any new capturing apps like BrainToss or Drafts? Are they faster than Drafts? Etc etc. 

So for me, the speed and simplicity of collecting stuff is the most important part of the GTD system. I would guess over the years I have spent hour and hours fine-tuning my system so I could make this part of the GTD system as fast and efficient as possible. 

For those of you wondering how I have things optimised at the moment, then I use Drafts. Drafts is a little note-taking app with a huge amount of power. It allows me to collect everything from a task, an appointment to an idea into just one app. Once the task, appointment or idea has been collected I can send it either direct to my Todoist inbox, my Evernote inbox or my calendar. I’ve been using Drafts for years now and hands down it is by far the best collecting tool I have come across. 

The app sits in my dock on both my iPhone and iPad and it has become a simple habit for me to simply open up the app, type or dictate my thought and send it off to the right place. 

Now for those of you interested, I have done a few videos on how I capture on my YouTube channel. Most recently, following an update to the Drafts App, I did a video on how I use it with both Evernote and Todoist. I will put a link to these videos in the show notes so you can see it all in action. 

So there you go. In my humble opinion, if you really want to optimise your productivity system, begin by looking at how you collect stuff. Ask yourself the question “what can I do to make collecting as fast and as efficient as possible “ and really get fast at it. 

It does take time to get into the habit of collecting and the habit-forming is part of the process, but once you are there, you really will have developed a process that will alleviate most of the stress and overwhelm you feel.

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering you can contact me either by email, Twitter or Facebook. All my contact details are in the show notes. 

And finally, if you really want to take your productivity to the next level and are serious about creating a life of joy, accomplishment and purpose then get yourself enrolled in one of my bundles while they on this amazing special offer. Remember, you only have 24 hours to get yourself enrolled to do it today. Get that into your collection system and get it done. 

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

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 16 | What To Do When Your Company Won't Allow You To Use 3rd Party Apps

This week, I answer a question many people have concerning what to do when your company does not allow you to use your own productivity apps. 

Don't forget, if you have a question, you can contact me at or DM me on Twitter or Facebook 


In this week’s episode of the working with podcast, I answer a question about integrating a personal productivity system in to a work environment that restricts app usage. 

Hello and welcome to episode 16 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s question is on a topic I know many people encounter in their working lives where their company’s IT policy restricts the usage of personal apps in the working environment. I know this can cause a lot of frustration for us productive, organised types. 

Before I get in to answering the question, I would just like to say if anyone is interested in learning more about productivity, time management and goal planning, Skillshare, the online course provider, has given me a unique link that allows anyone using it to sign up for their premium membership for FREE for 2 months. All you have to do is click on the link in the show notes and follow the instructions. Most of my productivity and time management courses are there as well as my latest English Email Mastery course which I launched a couple of weeks ago. So, go ahead and sign up, it’s completely FREE for 2 months and the education you could get in two months would be priceless. 

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

This week’s question comes from Adam. Adam asks: how do you integrate a productivity system into work environments that limit certain apps. 

This is one of the more frustrating parts of living in a modern tech orientated society. I know a lot of companies are fearful of being hacked or have their product secrets stolen, so their IT departments impose very strict rules on what can and cannot be used in the office. Personally, I think as time goes by, this will become less of an issue as more and more companies adopt more flexibly working practices. 

But how do with handle this today? Well the first thing to understand is you cannot change the rules, well, I guess most of you can’t, so we have to work within the rules. Now I know all companies have different rules, but the basics would apply whichever type of company you are working for. 

Let’s assume your company operates on a Microsoft Office platform, so the only apps allowed to get work done are the Microsoft suite of apps. This however, does allow us access to some fantastic apps. Two of which are particularly excellent, OneNote and OneDrive. If you have a personal Microsoft account, and a work account, although you may not be able to merge the two together you are at least able to use two of the best productivity apps out there. 

Now, most of the companies do allow you access to their files through their own signing in protocols and VPN (that’s Virtual Private Network internet access) so, at least you can have access to your work when you are off site. What I would suggest in these situations is you use your company’s computer for your work related files and notes and if you need access to your personal files, access those through the online versions. Evernote, OneNote, Todoist and many other productivity apps have web versions of their apps, so this should not be problem. 

However, I do know that some companies restrict the websites you can access too. In these situations, the only thing you can do is use your personal phone or tablet computer to access your personal files. 

The thing is, if you are using an app like Todoist, Asana, Trello or Things 3, you do still have access to these on your personal devices. If you are not allowed to access their websites, then you can still add tasks via your personal devices. This is not that much different from the way I work, When I am with a student or client and I have a list of things to do for that student or client after the meeting, I will transfer those tasks from my notebook (yes, I do still use a paper-based notebook when I am with clients) into my Todoist’s inbox. I would then process those tasks later in the day. 

There is another thing you can do that works beautifully, and that is to print out your tasks list the night before. When you have your task list printed out on a piece of paper, you can cross off the tasks as you do them, and you can add tasks that need adding to your to-list manager with a pen. Then, when you get home you can transfer those tasks into your to-do list manager when you do your daily mini-review. One of the professors I work with, prints out his calendar every week, and as he goes through the week he adds tasks and appointments by pen to the piece of paper. He’s been doing this for years and he’s one of the most productive guys I ever met. 

Your work calendar can be used to block time out for focused work, and you can see an overview of what meetings and appointments you have from that calendar. I would assume your work calendar can be shared to your main calendar as there is little or no secret information stored in there. If there is and you cannot share your work calendar with your personal calendar, then just block work time out on your personal calendar. 

In these situations, I would also recommend you do a daily mini-review while you are at work. That way you have access to both your work related tasks and your personal tasks. This means when you finish work for the day, you have everything planned for the next day while you had access to all the information you may need. 

Reference notes for your work projects can be stored in your company’s OneDrive folder or whatever system they use. Quite often when I am collaborating with a client who uses Google Docs, for example, I keep notes related to that collaboration project on Google Docs. That way when I am working on that project, I can access my notes directly from Chrome. Likewise if I have a client who is in the Microsoft ecosystem, I would keep my notes related to that project in my OneNote. If I have no such restrictions I still prefer to keep everything in Evernote, but from time to time that is not always possible. 

The thing is, personal productivity is all about the framework you have in place. It is not about the apps. The apps are irrelevant really. A good productivity system can be utilised on any platform with any device. Your to-dos are on your to-do list, which could very easily be a simple piece of paper, your events and appointments are on your calendar, your notes are kept in a notes app, or if that is not possible, a simple Word or Google document would work. In fact, when I think about it, Microsoft Excel could be turned into a fantastic to-do list manager if you really thought about it. 

What you need to make sure of is that when you need a file, or need to know what to work on next you can quickly access that information when you need it. Having a to-do list manager that is not permitted on your work computer is fine, you can use your mobile devices and you personal computer (if you have one) to do your processing and reviews. Notes can be a little more difficult, but most Operating systems now come with a built in notes app. On a Mac you get Notes, on Windows you get OneNote for example. For work related reference materials you can always use these build in apps. 

I run two companies, my productivity business and my language consultancy. Both companies have their own email domain which run through Google Business. With that package I get the full Google suit of office apps. I keep my language consultancy business’s work in it’s Google Drive. Because I know any document relating to that business will only ever be in Google Drive, it is very easy for me to locate the file I need, when I need it. For my productivity business, I use iCloud. So I am using two different platforms, but have no problems because there are clear, hard edges between the two businesses. The same goes for companies where their IT policy does not allow you to use third party apps. You just have to use whatever you are permitted to use and make sure YOUR filing system is followed. 

I as I say, these difficulties will disappear soon. Companies will have to change if they are going to become more flexible with their employees. And even if the companies don’t change, employees will demand it. Having a good, strong framework as your productivity system, allows you to be able to operate in any kind of environment. My Todoist has plenty of tasks like “continue developing online course”. As soon as I see that task, I know I need to open up Numbers on my Mac and continue planning. I know where the file is because it is related to my productivity business. If I had a task that said “continue developing communication lecture for AB Company” then I know the Keynote file is in my communications company’s Google Drive in the folder “AB Company Lecture”. And that’s what you need to create when your company is very restrictive with what you use. 

Hopefully, that has helped those of you listening that have to deal with strict company IT policies. 

Thank you very much for listening, don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast, please drop me a line at or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. Or you could write your question on a postcard and mail it to… Hahaha I’ve always wanted to say that. 

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

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 14 | The Difference Between a Next Action and a Single Action


In this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast, I answer a question about the difference between single actions and next actions in my organisation system.

Hello and welcome to episode 14 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

This week I have a question about the difference between single actions and next actions in my productivity system. A very good question indeed and one that can cause people starting out on the Getting Things Done journey a lot of confusion. 

Before we get into the answer to that question, I would like to ask anyone listening that if they have any particular problems with their productivity/time management system if they could contact me. I want to put together a series, either on YouTube or in an online course that will address the most common problems of getting yourself more organised and better with time management. You can email me,, DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the details are in the show notes.

Okay, let's get into this week’s question, so it is now time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question is from Maurice. Maurice asks:

Carl, I purchased your book on Todoist — thank you so much for a wealth of information — Could you tell me why you use the single actions and next actions. Thank you.

Another great question, Maurice. Thank you.

Okay, let’s start with the easiest one of the two. The next actions. Next actions are the very next steps you need to take on an individual project. For example, if you are planning your summer holiday, then the very next action could be to decide when you will take your summer holiday, or where you want to go. These decisions may involve your spouse, partner or friends, so the next action would be to discuss with your spouse, partner or friends about where you want to go. This task will be held in your “Summer Holiday” project in your projects list. Once you have decided where you want to go, the next action would probably be something like “decide when to take summer holiday” 

So, next actions are the steps or tasks you need to take to complete a project. 

Single actions, on the other hand, are quite different. Single actions are for tasks that have no project. This could be something as simple as “send copy of interesting article to Beth” This task is a simple, one-off task that does not belong to a project but is something that you don’t have time to do right now. The “interesting article” you want to send to Beth may be an article you need to find first, which may take you longer than two minutes. 

Now, that sort of brings me on to the two-minute rule. The two-minute rule is a rule that says if a task will take you less than two minutes to do, then do it now. The idea is it will take you more time to process it, than to do it, so you may as well do it right now. Now, the two-minute rule is very flexible. If you have plenty of time, then you may extend the time to any task that requires five minutes or less, or alternatively, if you are pushed for time, you may try and complete tasks that require only one minute to do. 

In my own experience, adopting the two-minute rule when I process helps to keep my single actions lists short. These lists can very easily end up becoming an overwhelming list of things you need to do because the list becomes a dumping ground for tasks you are not quite sure how to complete. When I have seen some of these lists from my clients, I often find that a lot of these single actions are actually projects disguised as single actions. Before making the decision about whether a task is a single action or not, make sure it is not a project. 

For example, “Call Jim and Jenny about mother’s birthday”, may actually be a project of “Organise birthday party For mother”. Or “set up meeting with Sarah and Steve” may really be a project called “this month’s marketing meeting”. My advice has always been to think through these tasks to make sure they are not part of a bigger project before you assign them to your single actions list. 

Going back to the next actions, these tasks do relate to a specific project and can be handled in a few different ways. Sometimes, when I want to spend a whole morning or afternoon working on a single project, I will have my to-do list manager open at that project’s view. This helps me to focus on what needs doing. For example, I could be creating a presentation for a client and so, rather than looking at my “today list”, I work directly from the project’s list. Other times, I just make sure that there is a task from the project coming up every day in my regular daily task list. 

In Getting Things Done, David Allen emphasises that it is important to have identified the very next action in all your open projects. Now, these do not have to have a date attached to them, all that needs doing is that a next action or task is inside each project and that it has the correct context, or label, attached to it. Obviously, if a project does not have any next actions, then essentially the project is dead or complete because there is nothing to do with it. 

Going back to the birthday party for your mother. Organising that is a project. So anything related to that project is a next action. The question is, what is the VERY next action. For example, if you have a list of tasks such as:

  • Call Jim and Jenny about venue for mother’s party
  • Find a caterer for mother’s party
  • Decide on venue for mother’s party
  • Write a list of people to invite
  • Decide on the date for party

The question you have to answer is what is the very next action? It could be, decide on date for mother’s party. But, when you sit down to think about that, you may realise that you need to talk to Jim and Jenny about that first. Now you have another task, another next action. If the project cannot move forward without talking to Jim and Jenny, then the very next action for that project, would be “talk to Jim and Jenny about date for party” As you have an action about talking to Jim and Jenny about the venue for the party, you may put the task of talk to Jim and Jenny about venue as the next action after the date and so on. 

So, as you can see, there is quite a big difference between next actions and single actions. 

How you organise your system is really up to you. Your system has to work for you. But fundamentals like next actions and single actions are something that you need to be aware of at any one time. This is why the weekly review is so important to have a workable GTD system. If you are not reviewing your projects weekly, things are going to slip and you are going to miss important deadlines and stress will start pouring into your life. Your weekly review is where you can sit down and get a much bigger idea of what is going on in your life and what you need to do next to make sure you are meeting your project deadlines and hitting your goals. 

I always see my weekly review as a time each week where I can jump off life’s merry-go-round and get a good view of where my life is going, what commitments I have and what I need to do next to make sure I am hitting my goals. My weekly review is also where I can make sure that every project I have has at least one next action and that any of my single actions are not projects in disguise. 

Hopefully, Maurice, that has answered your question. The thing to remember is a next action is project specific. Next actions are the very next steps you need to take to move a project forward towards completion. 

A single action is something that does not require multiple steps—rather a single step— to complete a commitment. Single actions are not projects. They are what they say they are. Single step projects if you like. All you need is to do one thing and the project is complete. Something like “pick up dog food on the way home”.

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, just send me an email or DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be very happy to answer it for you. All my contact details will be in the show notes.

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

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 13 | Explaining Getting Things Done


In this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast, I answer a question about managing a pure Getting Things Done system.

Hello and welcome to episode 13 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

In this week’s episode, I answer a question about managing a pure GTD system (that’s Getting Things Done by David Allen) when you don’t use dates as reminders to do your tasks.

Now, I should tell you the truth, when I first began using the GTD system, this was one of the hardest things for me to get my head around. I, like most people, had grown up using due dates to remind me to do things. The GTD methodology takes that away and focuses on contexts to tell you what work to get done. 

Anyway, before I answer the question, let me hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from YouTube user Gilco. Gilco asks: 

Without any scheduled dates how can one get things really done and don't lose the overview of all the things that have to be done? In the end, I have a great bunch of lists with many many points to go through and schedule. 

How can I then be reassured that I will not forget any point that has a specific due date...?

Okay, let's start with the basic idea behind GTD. GTD works on the idea that in order for you to complete a task, you are going to need a tool—a phone, a computer or a machine, a place— your office your home or the local hardware store, or a person—your boss, partner or a friend etc. No matter how urgent or how much you must complete that task today, if you do not have the right tool, are in the right place or with the right person you cannot do the task. 

A good example is if you need to reply to an email today, but you are on a 14-hour flight to Asia, and there is no internet available on the plane, no matter how urgent your reply is, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You could, of course, write the email and save it in your outbox ready for when you next have an internet connection, but the bottom line is for the next 14 hours, there is nothing you can do about sending the mail. You are not in the right place (a place with internet access) 

With GTD, when you sit down to do some work, you open the lists that you can complete tasks from. For example, I have a list in Todoist I call my “office list” that shows all the things I need to do on my computer or phone. That is because when I am in my home office I have my phone and my computer right in front of me. Those are the tasks I can do right now, so that is the only list that matters. My list of things I need to talk to my wife about is not relevant. She is not there, so I cannot talk to her. 

Of course, if my wife comes home, I can quickly check that list to see if there is anything I need to talk to her about that needs talking about today. 

the same way if I take a call from my colleague. I can bring up the list for my colleague and check to see if there is anything I need to talk to her about. Once I have talked to her about everything that needs talking about I can check those tasks off. 

Now imagine if I go out in the car and I pass the hardware store. I can pull over and check to see what is on my hardware store list. If there is anything I need, I can go into the store and purchase it. While I am sat in my office doing work, there is no point in looking at my hardware store list because I am not there. If I know I will be going past the store later that day, then, of course, I can take a look to see if I need to call in when I pass. 

Okay, so hopefully that explains the basic idea behind GTD. 

Now, what about things that absolutely must be done today. These would be put on your calendar. Your calendar is your radar that tells you what needs to happen on specific days. Most of us are already using our calendar for date specific appointments, well for GTD users, also included on our calendars are all the tasks that must be done on a specific day. For example, if you need to send that email today, and you are flying out to Asia in the afternoon, you would put “send email to Sarah before flying to Asia” on your calendar. You do not necessarily have to allocate it a time, but as it MUST go today before you fly, then it would be on your calendar. 

If you need to finish a poster design for approval by Friday afternoon, then you would use your calendar to allocate a day when you would finish the design. Again, the choice is yours whether you allocate a time to do this or not. The important thing is that it is on your calendar on the day you need to do it. 

For example, I need to write my weekly blog post on Monday morning. This allows me time to write, and edit the post before it gets published on Wednesday. I actually allocate Monday morning 8:30am to 10:30am to write the post. If I am on fire and get the draft written by 9:30am, then I would open my calendar and see what else needs doing that day. If there is nothing else allocated, I would then open my @office list and begin working my way down that list until I have to leave to teach my class at lunchtime. 

So the morning workflow would be - open calendar check what needs doing today, once those tasks are completed, I then move over to my @office list and begin working my way down that list. 

If my context changes, from @office to @coffee shop, for example, which it sometimes does in the afternoons, then I open my @mobile list and continue working my way down that list. My @mobile list includes all the tasks I can complete using my phone or iPad. 

Over the years my workflow has changed a little. I find I prepare better if I check my calendar the night before. This way I am ready to get started on whatever work needs doing the moment I have my coffee made. When you check your calendar doesn’t really matter. Just go with whatever way works best for you. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, when you move from being date orientated to being context orientated productivity it can be difficult at first. But the beauty of the GTD system is in its simplicity and it’s logical workflow. 

Now, what about knowing what needs to be done and when. Well, this where the weekly review pulls it all together. When you do the weekly review you go through all your current projects task by task and make sure they are still relevant. Anything that needs to be done on a specific day, is moved on to your calendar and the rest stays on your to-do list— making sure you have the right context assigned to it. 

During particularly busy periods, you may find you have to do a weekly review more often, I have done mini-weekly reviews two or three times in a week in the past because I knew I had a lot of deadlines coming up all at once. 

When you go all in with GTD you soon find that the weekly review is essential if you want your system to work seamlessly. 

Is GTD all that it is cracked up to be? I would say an emphatic YES! After switching and enduring the growing pains related to moving from being date orientated to context orientated my productivity sky-rocketed. I very rarely miss any deadlines and often find I have completed a project well within the time frame given to me. My stress levels reduced dramatically because I was always getting the important things done first and then making a dent on all the other work that needed doing. I never had to think about what to do next, because just looking at the right list told me. Those decisions were made when I did my weekly review. 

The feeling of control and freedom GTD gave me, meant I could take more time off to sit back simply enjoy life again. Something I found difficult to do when I was date orientated. 

As I got better at GTD I did modify the system a little. I like to separate out my routine tasks from my project tasks. to me, routines just have to be done and do not take my life any further forward. It is project tasks that improve my life and improve me as a person. So I want to be more focused on these. That little modification really got me focused on the important things in my life and boosted my productivity even further. 

So there you have it. That’s how GTD works and how it can really transform your productivity. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read the book. The book will give you everything you need to set up your own GTD system. I will put a link to the English version in the show notes for this episode. 

For you Todoist users, I also have a mini-series of videos showing you how to set up a GTD system in Todoist and I also have a video showing an alternative way to set up GTD that I recently discovered when the Getting Things Done company released a setup guide for Todoist. All the links to these are in the show notes. 

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, you can email me—, DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be happy to add your question to the list. 

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

The Working With... Podcast | Episode 12 | What I Put In Evernote.

This week's episode answer a question from many people about what exactly do I put into my Evernote. 


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In this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast, I answer a question about Evernote I am frequently asked.

Hello and welcome to episode 12 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

Since starting this podcast last November the one question I am asked most often is how and what I use Evernote for. This question is easy to understand, because Evernote can be used for so many things. It can be used for collecting your ideas, your memories, your kids’ drawings and paintings as well as more businessy stuff such as expense receipts, meeting notes and performance tracking. 

So, in this week’s episode I decided to go through the kind of stuff I keep in Evernote and hopefully it will give you some ideas of what you too can use Evernote for. 

So, without further ado, let me hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question… 

This week’s question comes from many people: Jill, David, Penny and Tony to name a few. The question is: Hi Carl, what do you put into your Evernote?

Okay, before we get in to the details of this question, I should say I have been using Evernote since September 2009. So I am nearing my 9th year anniversary. 

Quite simply Evernote changed everything for me. Before Evernote, i had notes and files all over the place. Now, because I am a naturally organised person, these notes and files did have a place, usually kept in folders in my bookshelf next to my desk. Notes, were often kept in notebooks and all my important paper documents were kept in their appropriate files. It was organised, but it still took time to find what I was looking for when I needed it. 

Then along came Evernote. Even back then it was easy to take a picture of something and send it to Evernote. And this is what I started doing. First in was important receipts that I needed to keep for the guarantee. Then it was my utility bills and soon pretty much all important paper documents I needed to keep were scanned into my Evernote. In the early days I needed to scan many of these documents in using my computer’s printer/scanner, but as time went by and technology in our digital devices improved, I was able to scan documents simply by using my iPhone. 

My organised mind, created a number of Notebooks and tags for these documents and very soon it just became natural to scan in documents to Evernote. I think, if I am being honest, I never actually made the decision to go paperless, it just evolved over a few years. 

I’ve always used Evernote to capture my ideas and notes. That was what I used Evernote for when I first started using it. Scanning documents came later. 

Over the years, what I keep in Evernote has grown, and as the stuff I keep there has grown, so my organisation of Evernote has evolved. Now, for example, I use less notebooks and more tags. That was a big change in the way I use Evernote a couple of years ago. (thank you, Enrico Nahler) 

The one thing that has always kept me with Evernote by the way is Evernote’s search function. I have tried other note taking apps over the years, but the one thing Evernote does better than all its rivals is in it’s search. It is fast (very important) and you can search for almost anything within a note. Just hitting COMMAND J on a Mac (sorry I don’t know what the function is on Windows) will search for notebooks, tags or keywords. It takes no time at all and it is so easy to find exactly what you are looking for. If, for example, I am planning a trip to Singapore and will have a few days free, I can go in to Evernote, type “Singapore” in the box and I will get all my notes related to Singapore and I can choose the places I want to visit. 

So there you have one use of Evernote I use. I keep a note for each city or country I would like visit and list out all the places I would like to see while I am there. I also keep important information such as visa requirements and other such information. 

I also keep all my utility bills in there now. As soon as a bill arrives I will use my phone and scan the bill in and send it to my inbox. Then when I process my inbox I will tag it appropriately and send it off the the right notebook. 

I also have a special tag I call Incubator. My incubator is used for ideas I am developing. I get ideas at all times of the day. It is so easy to open up Evernote using 3D Touch on my phone and capture the idea. Then as I develop the idea over time, I store it in my Incubator tag which is kept in my favourites bar. This way it is really easy to get the note back and add other ideas I have to the note as they come up.

My journal is now in Evernote. The reason I switched over to Evernote was simply because Evernote is with me everywhere I go. If I have a few minutes while in a taxi, on a bus or train and I want to write in my journal I can do so. Then, at the end of the year, I print out that year’s journal entries and create a book from it and I store those in a storage box. In the future it will fantastic to be able to go in and read what I wrote in years gone by. 

One area of interest I have is with classic British clothing. I love the history and culture behind items of clothing. For example, the business suit we all know and sometimes wear today has military origins going back centuries. Overcoats and pea coats also originated from military clothing. It’s a fascinating story where the different styles we all love to wear come from. I have a tag for articles related to clothing I like and can reference these when I am deciding if I want to buy a new coat or suit. 

Likewise I have a tag for clothing and shoe suppliers. I have my favourite brands, I think we all do, and as I live in South Korea some suppliers can’t or won’t ship to Korea. Over the years I have found suppliers who do ship here, so I keep their details in Evernote and if I decide I want to buy a new sweater, I can go in to Evernote search for “sweaters” and up comes my favourite sweater manufacturer, N Peal in London (they do ship to Korea by the way) Same for my shoes. My favourite show maker is a company called Crockett and Jones. Now some department stores do sell Crockett and Jones here in Korea, but they are prohibitively expensive here. It is actually cheaper to buy direct from the UK. I know my sizes at Crockett and Jones so I can simply pull up my Crockett and Jones note and I have the order details right there. 

I also keep details on my favourite fashion icons. I have tags for people like Cary Grant and Steve MacQueen and in there I keep pictures of them and details of the clothes they wore. Steve MacQueen’s sunglasses in the movie Thomas Crown Affair were made by Percel. I have a pair which came from an article I found while surfing around the internet one day years ago, found this article on the sunglasses worn in the movie, clipped the note and a few months later I ordered a pair. 

Other more businessy things I keep in Evernote are things like my student lists. I keep a note for each student and client I teach whether that is my communication students or my productivity mentoring students. These notes contain all the things we are working on and what we have worked on. That way, when I am with the student I have a list of all the things we have worked on and I can see what needs working on without me having to carry that information around in my head. Again, I tag each note with the student’s name. That way it is very easy to call up the note when I need it. 

 I have a tag called “content” in that tag, I keep notes for each of my YouTube series, such as Todoist, Evernote and work. I can then add ideas to the list for future episode when they come to me. I also use a fantastic app called Drafts which allows me to add ideas for these directly to the note without having to open Evernote. I did a YouTube video on Drafts a few months ago, and I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for those of you interested in it. 

My weekly social media content is also planned out in Evernote. I keep a template for this and copy the template every Sunday when I plan out next week’s social media content. During the week, when I am busy doing my usual weekly work stuff, it makes life so easy to just open up that note and do that day’s social media work. 

And of course, meeting notes. Depending on the situation, I either type notes directly into Evernote, or use my paper notebook and after the meeting just scan the notes in. Once again, this makes finding meeting notes months later, so easy. It’s almost unfair on anyone not using Evernote. It really does work as my external brain. 

And there you go, pretty anything I want to keep gets put into Evernote. All my interests and hobbies like, my unhealthy fascination on all things related to James Bond and my love of Photoshop. I keep a tag for these. Tutorials for Photoshop, interesting facts about Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond and my writing hero. Anything like that gets sent to Evernote. As you can imagine, over the last 9 years I have collected an incredible source of information that is tailor-made for my interests and needs. 

And that’s something I should stress. Make Evernote yours. Keep whatever you like in there. Create a notebook and tagging system that works for the way you think and just sit back and enjoy everything you keep there. As time goes by you’ll love going in to your Evernote for all the memories it serves up for you. 

Thank you for listening to this episode. I do hope you enjoyed it as much as I did making it. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like me to answer, all you have to do is email me -, DM my on Facebook or Twitter or fill out the question sheet on my website

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