How To Finally Get Control Of Your Time

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“I don’t have time”, “There aren’t enough hours in the day”, “I’m busy”. Do you use these phrases regularly? If so, then this week’s episode of the Working With… Podcast is for you.

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Script

Episode 98

Hello and welcome to episode 98 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week we are returning to the question of time, and how to manage your time on a daily basis. I know so many people really struggle with this, yet there are a few things you can do to reduce your feelings of stress, overwhelm and that feeling of busyness. 

But before we get to this week’s question, for those of you in the UK—or anywhere really—the Life and Time Mastery workshop is returning to Scunthorpe on the 28th December. 

This workshop is going to be very special. We are calling it “Life and Time Mastery - the 2020 Edition - Start Fast. Start Strong” and its single purpose is to help you to set yourself up for the best decade you have ever had. 

So if you are in the UK and want the opportunity to visit the wonderful Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe, spend a day with some incredibly energised, positive and amazing people plus Kevin Blackburn—a regular guest on this podcast—and myself, get yourself registered soon. Places are limited and they are selling out very fast. 

It would be fantastic to meet you in Scunthorpe in December. AND… There might even be a possibility to meet this show’s mystery podcast voice. Now there’s a fantastic reason to join us. 

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

This week’s question comes from Jake. Jake asks: Carl, I know you talk a lot about the 2+8 Prioritisation system and I do understand it, but I have so much to do each day, I really can’t cope. There’s no time for me to block time off for focused work and even thinking about working on my goals is a joke. Is here anything you can suggest that will help? 

Thank you for your question, Jake. 

Okay, let’s start with time. Everybody gets the same amount of time each day. Twenty-four hours. Some people can get an amazing amount done in that time, while others struggle and seem to be always telling everyone who will listen how busy they are. 

So if we start with the premise that we all have the same amount of time, the only variable is what we are doing in those twenty-four hours. 

Let me tell you a little secret. The way to get the most out of the time you have available is to get realistic about what you can achieve. 

If you have a complex 100 plus slide presentation to create, you are never going to do that in one day. Not if you accept that throughout the day you will get interrupted and distracted. It just isn't going to happen. Take a typical Apple keynote presentation, for example, we know, from the books that came out following the death of Steve Jobs, that one of those presentations took around six months to prepare. And in the two weeks leading up to the keynote, a team of people were spending all the time they had available putting the finishing touches to it. 

So, if you have a project as big as an important two-hour presentation, you are going to need more than a week to prepare it. If you are the kind of person who leaves those kinds of tasks until the last minute then sure you are going to feel busy and overwhelmed, yet those feelings are entirely of your own making. 

What you have to understand is that a lot of the work you have to do, if you want to do the work properly, will need more than a day to do so you need to spread out your work. Short sprints over a longer period of time will result in better performance and a lot less stress.

Here’s a trick I do. At the end of every day, I look at my calendar not just at tomorrow but for the rest of the week. I am looking for days that have filled up with appointments and comparing that with my task list for the rest of the week. I spend around ten minutes each day, just getting a big picture view of my week and making sure no day is overloaded with too many appointments and tasks. 

If I do find I have a day with too many appointments and tasks, I will re-schedule some of those tasks to quieter days. Or remove the non-urgent tasks altogether from that week. I’ve even been known to re-schedule less important appointments. If I have a couple of quiet days and three busy days, I will do as much as I can of my bigger project work on those quieter days. Just getting those big tasks started is often all that is needed to keep the overwhelm and stress at bay.

In a way, you need to develop the mindset of protecting your time. 

Let me ask you a question... do you have the courage to schedule rest time? I ask that because I’ve seen people try and work through an enormous amount of work and meetings only to find their effectiveness becomes so bad they end up having to redo a lot of the work they did when they were exhausted because of all the mistakes in there. 

When I ask them about rest periods, they tell me their client, customer or boss “needs” it tomorrow morning. When pushed, they usually confess that they could ask their client, boss or whoever if they could send it later that day and almost always they would be allowed to. The reason they don’t is that they are afraid that they may be told no. Part of getting in control of your available time is asking for and setting realistic deadlines. If you don’t have the courage to ask, then you only have yourself to blame.

If you think you can do a week’s worth of twenty-hours a day and get yourself on top of your work you are deluding yourself. You won't. You would get far more work done if you just did five or six hours of concentrated focused work each day. 

Never be afraid to schedule some rest time. An extra hour of sleep will do far more for your effectiveness than trying to work an eighteen hour day. 

So, what else can you do? 

One of the most powerful ways of getting in control of your time is to begin the day knowing what it is you want to get accomplished. And when I say knowing what you want to get accomplished I mean in a realistic sense. 

One of the most common reasons for feeling overwhelmed and stressed is setting unrealistic expectations. When you fill your day with appointments and tasks something will break, usually, that will be you. Your discipline will fail, you’ll look at your list of things to do and no matter how determined you are to get everything done, either you will run out of time or your resolve will break at some point in the day. 

The truth is there is a limited amount you can effectively do each day. We are living human beings. We are not machines. You will get tired as the day goes by and your ability to focus will reduce. This is something you really need to understand if you want to become more effective and productive. And no matter how super-human you think you are, you are still a human being and you are not as super-human as you think you are.

One thing we can all do is to find where our optimum is. What I mean by this is where the point at which our effectiveness begins to reduce. 

In my case, I know I am good for around 2,000 written words each day or roughly four hours of concentrated work. If I try and do more than that, while I can do it, my effectiveness diminishes and I end up having to rewrite those extra words the next day or redo a lot of the work I did. Not very efficient. 

A recent similar example of this occurred with my exercise schedule. Over the last six months, I have been exercising very intensely. Each week I have pushed myself harder. Last weekend I ran 5 miles - no big deal, except I haven't done much running over the last few months. Instead, I have focused more on circuit training—that’s the old fashioned name for CrossFit—so naturally, as I was unwisely pushing myself through the last mile, I felt a pain in my Achilles' tendon. Then the following day as I was pushing myself towards the end of a bench press session, I felt a sharp pain in my neck. The following two or three days I was walking around with a limp and a stiff neck. Why? I pushed myself too hard and did not take enough rest. I was not able to exercise at all for three days. How effective was my exercise? Had I reduced the intensity a little, got enough rest, I would have been able to exercise those three days instead of feeling frustrated.

Remember you are human. There’s a limit you can do each day and when you go beyond that limit something will break and that is more likely to be you. You are not indestructible. 

Your most effective tool at managing your workload is your calendar. Your calendar does not lie. It has those twenty-four hours on it each day. You can add your meetings and appointments and you can schedule blocks of time to get your work done. If you adopt a policy of ‘what goes on my calendar, gets done’ then this will work incredibly effectively. If you start to ignore what's on your calendar then you will soon find yourself stressed, over-worked and overwhelmed. 

Here’s a trick I use with my calendar. If someone asks for a meeting I always reply “I’ll check my calendar and let you know later.” I could very easily look at my calendar on my phone right there and then and give an answer, but I want to see the big picture of my work before I commit to a meeting. I want to see where I am before and after the suggested meeting time and I want to know how much work I have on at that time. I cannot do that if I am forced to make a decision there and then. 

Don’t be so quick to confirm an appointment. Be more deliberate with your scheduling and you’ll find you will soon become much less stressed and overwhelmed. 

SO there you go, Jake, I hope some of these tips have helped you. Remember, you are a human being and there is a limit on what you can do each day. Be deliberate with the work you choose to do, make sure it has the biggest impact on your projects and try to schedule enough time each day for rest. You will get far more done if you are rested and not fatigued. 

Thank you for your question and again, I thank you all for listening. If you have a burning question you would like answering on this show, then please email it to me at carl@carlpullein.com and I will be happy to answer it for you.

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

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.

You can also listen on:

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Script

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 carl@carlpullein.com 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 Get Started Once You Have Your Productivity System In Place

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Podcast 77

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

You can also listen on:

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Script

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. 





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:

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Script

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 (carl@carlpullein.com) 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.