Managing Projects v Managing Tasks Which is More Important?

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Are you finding your projects list overwhelming? Then this week’s podcast is just for you. 

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Script

Episode 96

Hello and welcome to episode 96 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s question is all about managing an overwhelming projects list. A projects list that keeps moving, changing and growing. The problem here is not actually with your projects list but rather the way you are thinking about your whole system. 

But before we get to this week’s question, I’d just like to remind you about my current coaching offer’s imminent end. It’s true, my coaching programme’s summer offer will be ending this week. Right now you can sign up for the programme for just $99 and if you wish to continue you can save yourself up to $300 on any of my longer programmes. 

I know from my own personal experience how a coach can change your outcomes. As a teenager, I was a pretty useful middle-distance runner. But before I discovered that, a teacher at my school saw me running in a cross country race and recommended I get a coach. He saw something in me I did not see, I guess, but I decided to do just that. I got a coach. 

Very quickly my running got better, my speed endurance improved and my race tactics became sharper and more focused. That was because there was now someone guiding me, encouraging me and making small incremental changes to the way I trained and the way I ran races.

I learned that if you want to perform at your best, you cannot do it alone. To get the best out of yourself you need a coach. Someone on the outside who can help you improve your technique. To hold you accountable when you try to take shortcuts and to keep you focused on the goal. 

So as we head towards the end of this decade and the start of a new decade, now would be the right time to get yourself a coach. Someone to look at your current system and give you guidance, strategies and methods to improve your overall set up so you can start the new decade Sharpe, focused and motivated to make it the best decade of your life. 

All the details of what you get in the programme are in the show notes.

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

This week’s question comes from Dinh Hai. Dinh Hai asks: Hi Carl. I have lots of projects running at the same time. I am having trouble keeping track of all of them. I use Todoist and Evernote quite regularly. Do you have any ideas on managing multiple projects at the same time? 

Thank you, Dinh Hai, for the question. 

Okay, I think we need to go back to basics here. Whether you are using a pure GTD set up that is operating through contexts (people, place or tool) or you have your own setup, a project folder is just a list of tasks related to a single outcome. Unless you decided to work on a single project all day to the exclusion of everything else, then you are never likely to be working from your project folders. So the number of projects you have going on at any one time is not relevant. 

Ultimately, what you do each day is controlled not by the number of projects you have but by the time you have available to do the tasks associated with those projects. You only have 24 hours—the same as everyone else. 

We normally work from a daily list of tasks we have decided we want to do today or we are working from a list of tasks that we can only do given where we are, who we are with or what tools we have available. 

If we did not have these project placeholders, our inboxes would become a very long list of unrelated tasks and ultimately become overwhelming. That’s why we need a way to categorise and organise our tasks. Whether you do that by project or context doesn't really matter. 

So, the only decision you have to make is what will you do today? That is really the only thing you can decide. 

Let’s say you have eight hours to do your work today. So the time available is already decided. The decision you need to make is what will you do during those eight hours? If you receive an email that you know will require two or three hours of work, you need to decide whether you will use two to three of your eight hours today to do that task or spend one hour today and one hour tomorrow. That’s the only decision you can make on that work. Of course, you may have the option to delegate or even not do it at all, but it really does not matter where you put that task. What matters is when will you do it? 

I think sometimes we overthink our productivity systems and make them far more complicated than they need to be. What it comes down to is how much time do you have to complete your tasks and what tasks will you do in that time? 

Now, of course, those decisions will likely be based on time sensitivity—when something is due—and perhaps who gave you the work to do. But those are entirely different decisions to make. The daily decisions you are making are based on what work you will do today given the amount of time you have available. 

This is why your calendar should be a big part of your overall productivity system. Your calendar is going to tell you where you are meant to be, what meetings and appointments you have and how much available time you have to do your tasks. 

Let me give you an example. 

Wednesdays are currently busy teaching days for me. I have five hours of teaching from 8 AM to 6:30 PM. If my working day is between 8 AM and 7 PM that gives me eleven hours of work time. In that time, I will need to find the five hours for teaching—which is fixed, time to eat lunch, exercise, respond to emails and messages and get my daily admin done. I will also need to be aware of the travel time to get to the classes I will teach, which will involve another two to three hours. This means every Tuesday evening when I do my daily planning, I can see there is going to be little or to time for specific project work. 

What I will do is see that I have two to three hours of travel time. That essentially is dead time. I travel by public transport to these classes so the question is what work can I do on my phone while I am travelling? For me, that means responding to emails and messages and writing. That’s it. I cannot design a presentation, record a video or podcast. All I can do is do work related to communication and writing. 

So, as I am planning my day, I can go into my “writing” and “communication” labels in Todoist and look for work that can be done while I am travelling, assign tomorrow’s date to the task and I am good to go. 

This means when I begin my day, the only tasks on my task list for the day are tasks I can do based on where I will be and the available time I have. 

This is why spending ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day looking at your calendar and to-do list planning what you will work on tomorrow is important if you truly want to become more productive. The weekly review is where you make decisions on what you want to accomplish next week and gives you an opportunity to get your projects and other lists cleaned up and current, but it is the daily planning and review where you plan out what you will do the next day. 

Now, I know a lot of people feel everything is important, everything needs to be done right now and they are so much busier than anyone else. The reality though is quite different. Everyone has the same amount of time each day and unless you are working on an assembly line cranking out identical widgets all day, you have some degree of flexibility to decide what you will work on next. 

It does not matter how many projects you have or how many tasks are in those projects, you are constrained by the amount of time available and what type of work you can do based on where you are, what you have with you and who you are with. I would add another factor too—how much energy you have. If you are sick, suffering from a lack of sleep or just exhausted, your effectiveness at doing your work is not going to be great. 

Now you cannot change the laws of physics or the laws of time. You are never going to be able to turn 24 hours into 30 hours. So stop trying to do that. That is just a waste of energy. Instead, work on the things you can affect. That means looking at your calendar, seeing where the gaps are between meetings, training courses, appointments, eating and sleeping and deciding what you will work on from your projects list in that available time. 

Get better at prioritising and planning. Learn to say “no” to new commitments that do not excite you and get enough rest. And remember, none of these tips will be of use to you if you are exhausted and have no energy to do the work you want to do. 

As I keep saying, becoming better organised and more productive is simple. Doing it is a lot harder, but it’s not impossible. The choice you have to make is between trying to do everything at once and accomplishing very little, or being more strategic and planning out the day ahead with a clear mind and intention in a well-rested state. With those, you can accomplish a lot more in a lot less time.

Well, I hope that has helped you Dinh Hai, I know it is hard to prioritise and get everything you have to do in perspective, but remember we cannot change the laws of time and we can only do what we can do in the time we have available each day. 

Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. I am so grateful to all of you because we have, or will have, reached 100,000 downloads of this podcast. I am humbled to be able to help so many people to become better organised and more productive. Thank you all so so much. I want you to know I do this for you and I have no plans to stop doing what I do.

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

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 Organise Your University/College life

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This week, it’s all about building a personal learning system using the productivity tools we all have.

You can also listen on:

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Script

Episode 94

Hello and welcome to episode 94 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s show, I’m answering a question about developing a personal learning system using the tools we use or can use every day. Now I did this last year when I developed my own system for learning Korean and you can use a similar system for creating your own education system whether you just want to have a continuous learning system or you are going back to university in the next couple of months.

Now, before we get into this week’s question, I’d like to tell you about my Pathway to Productivity course bundle. This bundle contains From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days, Your Digital Life 2.0 and Time And Life Mastery 3. It is everything you need to build your very own productivity system—a system that not only handles your current work and your backlog but also shows you how to develop and build in your goals to your everyday life. 

No matter where you are in your goal planning and productivity journey, this bundle of courses will give you everything you are looking for and is only $145.00. Details of the bundle are in the show notes.

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

This week’s question comes from Kalp. Kalp asks: Hi Carl, I heard you talking about developing a system for learning a language and I was wondering if you could tell me how I could create my own learning system. I recently started at university and I am struggling to keep all my learning materials and notes together so I can find them later. 

Great question and a timely one too, Kalp as I know many people will be returning to university and college soon after the summer break.

Okay, the first thing you are going to have to decide is where will you keep your notes? There are a lot of choices here but you do need to choose carefully. Your notes, class handouts and other learning materials need to be searchable and you need a notes app that is robust enough to hold all sorts of documents. 

The two big players in this field are Evernote and Microsoft OneNote. There is little to choose between them but OneNote may have the edge as it is free. Evernote does have better search functionality, but if you organise your materials effectively, then OneNote will be perfectly fine for this job. 

When organising your notes app make sure you create notebooks (both Evernote and OneNote call folders “notebooks”) for each subject you are studying. You want to be able to open the app and get straight to the materials you have for each subject quickly and efficiently. It’s no good, having a notebook called “science” and then having a mix of biology, chemistry and physics scattering around that notebook. Separate them out. In this example, create individual notebooks for biology, chemistry and physics. 

Just one tip here. If you have digital textbooks and large PDF files, I would recommend you use a cloud-based storage system. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or Apple’s iCloud would work well here. Just create a folder for each subject you are studying in your cloud drive. While OneNote and Evernote will hold these documents for you, because of their size they will slow down your notes app. 

What I do here with my teaching materials is to divide the textbooks up into chapters and add the chapters individually to my notes app for better digital annotations. But that rather depends whether you want to use a tablet for annotating your learning materials or not. 

And that leads me nicely to how you will take your notes. If you prefer the digital way, then here Microsoft OneNote is great. Using a stylus or Apple Pencil with OneNote is a great experience—particularly on an iPad. Evernote falls rather short here and I would not recommend using Evernote as your digital writing tool. Hopefully, that will be an area Evernote fixes pretty soon. 

For me, I use an app called Notability. It has fantastic digital annotation functionality and all my teaching materials are kept in here. 

If you prefer to use pen and paper for taking your lecture notes then I would suggest you buy A4 ring bound notebooks for each subject you are studying. Make sure you label the notebooks clearly or buy different colours for each subject. These notebooks are light and easy to carry in a bag. 

A good practice to get into the habit of doing is scanning your notes into your notes app at the end of each day. That way you will always have a backup copy of your notes and you can use them for studying for you example later from any device you have wit you. 

Next up your calendar. My advice would be to go with Google Calendar. Almost all universities and colleges with have a link you can subscribe to which will populate your calendar with the right events and classes. Make sure you subscribe to your course’s calendar subscription feed, rather than the university’s main feed. You don’t want to be seeing stuff you are not interested in there. 

If there isn’t a way to subscribe to a calendar, then you will need to add your lectures and tutorial classes manually. Save yourself time by making them recurring events. You can always delete individual classes when they come up. 

Make sure you add the dates for submitting course work and assignments. Put them in as all-day events that way they are clearly seen at the top of your calendar. 

Now for your to-do list, Here you want to create project folders for each subject you are learning. For example, when I was at university studying law we studied five individual subjects each academic year. In one year we may have had Contract Law, Tort, Land Law, EU Law and Law and Legal Skills. Each one of those subjects needs to be individual projects. As you go through your studies there will be tasks you need to do related to those subjects and you can put them in there. These tasks could be things like research Donohue v Stephenson or begin writing an assignment on medical negligence. 

Now the final part to your set up is to create a social project too. Part of being at university is the social side and having a project for your social life is just one of those things you will need to manage.

Now, one of the best ways to stay on top of your studies is to make full use of your calendar. Once you have your lecture and tutorial sessions in your calendar you will see where you will have time for doing your studies. Schedule your study time on your calendar. How you do this is really up to you. For me, I would always schedule my study time on a week to week basis. It becomes part of a weekly review. Often I found there were group sessions that needed to be scheduled as well as my social life—a band I wanted to see was visiting the student union club for instance. So trying to set my self-study time in stone was not really possible. Maintaining a little flexibility here really helps. It also means you can add more study sessions as assignments become due or you are preparing for exams. 

So how does all this work on a day to day basis? 

Well, as you go through your day with lectures and tutorial sessions you are going to be picking up tasks. You can collect these into your to-do list manager’s inbox. Process you inbox every 24 to 48 hours and get those inbox tasks into their correct project folder and dated, if necessary. 

But the biggest task you will have on a day to day basis is to make sure you are keeping your study materials up to date. If you let this slip, it will very quickly become a mess. Just ten to twenty minutes each day will keep you up to date and current. For me, I would create a recurring task for every Monday to Friday to clean up my study materials. Scan in anything that needs adding and making sure all my lecture notes are filed into their correct place. I would also make sure I did this at the same time every day. Either just before or after dinner or first thing in the morning. It does not take long if you do it daily, it becomes a nightmare if you leave it and do it weekly. That’s when you forget what something means to you and if you haven’t titled or dated the notes correctly it becomes impossible to keep up. Do it daily. You will thank yourself for that later. 

And finally, before you start, take my Beginners course on COD (Collect Organise and Do) - it’s free and it will give you everything you need to get your system set up. 

Getting set up and ready now will save you a lot of stress and organising once you get to your university or college. It is not difficult to stay on top of things. It’s as Jim Rohn said: “a few simple disciplines practised every day”. That’s all you need. Just ten to twenty minutes daily and you will very easily keep up to date and organised and will have a very pleasant time during your studies. 

I hope that has answered your question, Kalp. Thank you for sending it in and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, just send me an email carl@carlpullein.com or DM me of Facebook or Twitter. I will be very happy to answer your question.

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

How To Get control of Your Distractions and Interruptions

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This week I have a fantastic question about managing interruptions and distractions throughout the day.

You can also listen on:

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Script

Episode 92

Hello and welcome to episode 93 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Okay, so we all get them, they are a part of life and they can cause us so much stress and pull us away from the work that is important to us. What am I talking about? I’m talking about all those interruptions from colleagues, customers and clients and yes, friends and family. What can we do to, not eliminate them—after all that’s not going to be possible—but at least reduce the impact they have on our day? That’s the topic for this week’s podcast.

Now, before I get into this week’s question, for all you newbie Todoist users, don’t forget I have just launched my new, FREE, Getting Started With Todoist online course. It’s around one hour in length and will take you through everything you need to know to set up Todoist, understand how tasks and dates work and build a fully functioning system. The course is available on my learning centre as well as on Skillshare. To enrol in the course you can find all the links in the show notes. 

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

This week’s question comes from Neil. Neil asks: Hi Carl, could you share your thoughts or system that will help me to resume my work after getting interrupted. I am not distracted by social media much, but I am facing these kinds of issues and it's slowing down my productivity. 

Great question, Neil. 

Being interrupted while at work is just a part of life. It would be very rare for us to ever be in a situation where we could go all day without any interruptions. Things like other people’s emergencies, customers urgently needing the answer to a simple question and our boss wanting something done yesterday. 

Now I feel I am quite lucky here because in the distant past I spent four happy years working in hotel management and in the hotel industry, the guests always come first. This meant that no matter what I was doing if a guest asked for something everything had to be dropped and whatever the guest wanted, if it was possible, we attended to it right away. That could be something as simple as an ironing board or something more complex such as finding a suitable meeting room. Whatever it was it had to be done immediately. 

And the worst thing of all, these interruptions came in the form of a beeper. A little black box that you attached to your belt via a clip and whenever you were needed, you would be ‘bleeped’. It was horrible. I still have nightmares of that beeping sound almost twenty-five years later!!! When it did bleep you either picked up the nearest phone and dialled 1 or you ran up to reception and asked what they wanted. 

I have to say, though, it was a great way to stay fit and healthy. Eight and a half hours of running around. Nothing beats that for keeping the weight off!! 

To manage all these interruptions, and if you were the duty manager that day you had to deal with them yourself, I always carried a little notebook with me with a list of all the things I needed to do during my shift. When we started a shift we did a handover with the manager who was on duty before, so you knew about any issues and you also knew what needed to be prepared for while you were on shift. That could be a meeting, a special dinner or a VIP guest arriving. 

I would write down all the things that needed to be done while I was on shift on one page of that notebook. Then as I went through my shift I crossed off what I had done while I was doing them. 

This meant that as the bleeps came, and they always did, I could stop what I was in the middle of, deal with the interruption and once I had dealt with the guest or problem I would check my notebook and return to where I was before I was interrupted. 

It was a simple, easy way of making sure I did not end up with a lot of half-finished jobs by the time I finished my shift, 

Now, of course, we have smartphones which beep and buzz all day and a lot of those beeps and buzzes are not important at all. We have to exercise a little judgment. For the most part, I have notifications turned off. The only notifications I have turned on are for text messages as any text message that comes in is likely to be reasonably urgent. It could be a student telling they need to cancel their class or it could be my wife asking me something—and whatever that is, it is ALWAYS urgent and has to be done NOW.

However, I do still follow the same ‘system’ I developed while I worked in the hotel industry all those years ago. Instead of carrying a little notebook with me though, I have my phone and I have a list of all the things I need to do today in my to-do list manager. 

These days, it is a little easier, the work I do now and the work I guess most of you do today is not as diverse as the kind of work you have to do in hotel management. Right now, for example, I am recording this podcast, my phone is on do not disturb and so is my computer. For the next thirty minutes, I cannot be disturbed as I record this. 

However, let’s say as I am recording this, there’s a knock at the door and my dog barks—he has his job to do - to protect me from the postman. That would destroy any recording I have done and I need to attend to whoever is at the door. So I stop recording, thank the dog for protecting me and ruining the recording, and see who is at the door. Once that is done, I can return to my recording. 

Now I have a decision to make. Do I pick up where I left off and edit out the bark, or do I start recording from the start again? But that’s all I need to do. 

And that’s really the key here. Having clearly defined tasks.

Okay, so recording a podcast is an easy thing to get back to. What about if you were working on a complex Excel file? Now this one is a bit more difficult. If you are interrupted while in the middle of that kind of work, it could take a long time to get back to where you needed to be. For that kind of work, you really have to go ‘dark’ as I like to call it. Going ‘dark’ means you need to come off the grid and remove any possibility of interruptions. 

That means your phone needs to be off, you need to ‘disappear’ and that means finding a place to work where you will not be disturbed. 

Now, what I’ve found is if you tell people—your colleagues, boss and clients that there will be times when you are not contactable but you will always return calls and emails as soon as you are finished, people understand. They often say they envy your discipline (ah, there’s that word again) It’s simply not true to say “my customers do not understand”. Your customers are humans too. They would understand if you set the boundaries. Most people do not set boundaries. 

And that takes me to the next point. Managing expectations. If you are serious about getting your important work done, you have to do this. You have to manage the expectations of those around you. If you were to tell everyone that between 10 am and 12 pm you would not be available because that is when you get on with doing your work, everyone would respect that. In almost twenty years of working in law and teaching, I have never once had anyone get upset because for two hours each day I was not available, Never. In fact, what I have found is I have received a lot more respect from clients and students and other faculty members than my colleagues who are always available have. 

I do this with email too. I tell everyone I will always reply within twenty-four hours. And I stick to that rule. This is why my “action Today” folder in email is so effective. I set the sorting to first in at the top and the last email in at the bottom. That way, the oldest email is at the top and I can quickly see when it came in and when I need to reply by. If I cannot answer the email because I am waiting for more information, I will still reply within 24 hours and explain I am still waiting for information. 

For most of us, we need to be available to our clients, customers, colleagues and bosses for most of the day. But that does not mean you have to be available for the full eight to tens hours of your working day. Tell the key people in your work life that you need to go dark at some point in the day to get on with your work. I have a client who is a doctor who goes dark between 5 pm and 6 pm every day to do his processing and daily mini-review and deal with the email in his “Action Today” folder. It helps him to stay on top any backlog and his patients all know he cannot be contacted between those times. He never has any problems and no one has got upset because they cannot contact him during that time. 

When you have a realistic list of the work you have to do each day on your daily to-do list, you use your calendar to block time off each day for focused work you will always know what you need to do. If you do get disturbed while you are in the middle of something just make a note of where you are and deal with the interruption. 

If you need your full concentration for a piece of work, then put all your devices on do not disturb and get on with the work. I promise you, no one will be upset if you are unavailable for an hour or two. 

I hope that has helped you in some way, Neil. I know it is not easy to set boundaries and to go ‘dark’, but try it for a week. You will be surprised at what happens. People do understand and you will find people will respect your time a lot more than if you made yourself available all the time. Set some boundaries, manage expectations and you will see a huge boost in your productivity.

Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast all you have to do is email me or DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be very happy to answer your question. 

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




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.

You can also listen on:

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Script

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 Manage Multiple Email Accounts

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This week we are back to managing email and how to manage multiple email accounts.

You can also listen on:

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Script

Episode 88

Hello and welcome to episode 88 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

We’re back to email this week with a very interesting question about managing multiple email addresses and whether to have them all in one place or to have different apps for different email addresses—a sort of compartmentalisation for email. 

If you haven't discovered already, my summer coaching sale has begun. In this sale, you can get incredible savings on my coaching programmes. 

I want to help as many people as I can to become better organised and more productive and I know investing in online courses or coaching programmes might not be everyone’s priority. But I strongly believe when you invest just a small amount of money in yourself, your wellbeing and your ability to handle stress you are investing in something much more than a short-term dopamine hit, you are investing in something that will stay with you for life. 

If you want to learn more about the savings you can make head over to my website and discover so much more. The link is in the show notes. 

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

This week’s question comes from Salvatore. Salvatore asks: Hi Carl, I have four email addresses: work, personal and two volunteer group emails. What do you recommend? One email app per address (Outlook, Gmail, web) or should I have all emails delivered to one inbox and filter somehow. Thank you!

Thank you, Salvatore, for your question. 

Many people have multiple email addresses. We have our work email address, a personal address and probably a few others we have accumulated over the years. The question is how do we manage all those emails. 

The ideal is to have one email app and have all your accounts coming in to that one email account. Now of course, I know this might not be possible in all cases. You may have Outlook for your business email and you company could have strict policies about how you use that account. In that case, you have no choice. In many ways that can work for you as it will enable you to place a hard edge between your work and your personal life. 

But let’s zoom out a little here. Email, whether it is a business related email or a personal one is still the same thing functionally. It is an input that needs a decision making on it. What do you need to do with the email? Reply? Save it for reference? Send it to someone else to deal with or delete it. It does not matter where that email comes from. You still need to make a decision about it. So, having everything come in to one place rather than multiple apps means you have less to check and therefore there less chance anything will get missed. 

I use Apple Mail both on my computer and my phone and iPad. All emails I receive come into that one app. I have folders set for each account though. For example, my two businesses - the productivity work and my English communication work each have their own email addresses. I also have a personal account for personal messages and online shopping. They all come in to the one app and one inbox.

My basic email folder structure is:

Action Today - this folder is for any email that requires action. It could be a reply, it could be something I have to read or it could be something else I need to do. If whatever it is I need to do will take longer than two minutes, then I will put the email into that folder for the right account. 

Next up I have my Waiting For folder. Usually, the only emails in there are emails I am waiting for something to be delivered. Online shopping for example and occasionally an email I waiting for a reply on. I check this folder once a day and once I have received the order or the reply I am waiting for I will remove the email and archive it. 

Then there is my archive folder for everything else. Once I have dealt with an email I will swipe left and the email automatically goes off to my archive folder. 

The question most people have is what about emails related to specific projects. This one is really your call. If you feel more comfortable having emails related to projects you are working on in one place, you can create folders for those specific projects. I don’t typically do this, but I do create specific folders for trips I am making. For example, last April when I went over to the UK and Ireland I created a folder for that trip because I have airline itineraries as well as hotel booking confirmations and car hire details. I wanted to have all these in one place in case I needed them while I was on the trip. 

Once I got back home I archived all those emails and deleted the folder. 

I have another trip coming up in September when I will be going over to Singapore. Again, I have created a folder specifically for that trip so all my hotel booking confirmations and flight itineraries are kept in there. This means if I need to access any information quickly at an airport or hotel, I can get it very quickly without having to search through all my emails. 

Now, if you do have strict rules about what comes in to your work email account you have no choice. You will have to have separate email apps for your personal email and your work email. That should not be a big problem though. The only thing you need to do is to make sure you are processing your personal email every twenty-four to forty-eight hours. 

This can be easily forgotten as you probably don’t treat personal email as important as your work email. A tip here would be to use your to-do list manager to remind you to check your personal email once a day. If you only check it once a week or once every few days its inbox will fill up and you will have to spend a lot of time clearing it out. Spending ten minutes or so each day processing your inbox here will keep you up to date and make sure you are not missing anything important. 

I think the biggest problem with email is we treat it as something more than just another input. But that it really all it is. It’s another input of stuff requiring your attention and a decision. So the secret, if it really is a secret, is to make sure you are processing it regularly and make those decisions about what needs to happen with it. Creating a system for processing your inbox or inboxes will help you to become much faster at making those decisions over time. If you can have all your email coming in to one app, that’s ideal. But if that is not possible, then make sure you build the system of processing your various accounts on a daily basis. Work related email may need checking several times a day, your personal email less frequently. That’s the choice you need to make. 

For me, the advantage of using Apple’s Mail app is its ability to create rules within the Mac OS system. Sadly this does not work on iOS mail, but I have created a unified Action Today smart folder where all my actionable emails come into one folder on my Mac. All three of my accounts have an Action Today folder and I want to see all these emails in one place. To do that I set up a Smart Mailbox to collect any email that I have designated as an Action Today email. I have tested many email apps over the years and I have never found an app that will allow me to do that. Newton, Spark and AirMail allow me to have multiple accounts but these are all separated within the app. So, if I use any of those apps I have to check three folders for actionable emails. With Mac OS Mail, I only have one folder to check. 

To overcome this, you can flag actionable emails, and most of these third party apps will collect all your flagged emails into one place. Once you have dealt with the email you can simply unflag it. It’s not a perfect way to do it, but it does work. 

So there you go, Salvatore. I hope that has helped. Try to keep all your accounts in one app. If that is not possible make sure you are using the minimum number of apps and check them everyday so they do not start to become overwhelming. Doing that should help you to keep everything under control. And remember, any email—personal or work related—is still just another input you need to make a decision on and then do something about it. 

Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you’d like answering, then you can email me - carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

How To Choose The Right Productivity Apps For You.

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Do find you are always looking for the best app for your productivity yet never seem to be able to find it? This week, I answer a question that might just help.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Episode 87

Hello and welcome to episode 87 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s it’s all about productivity apps and how to get the right one and more importantly stick with it once you have made the decision. 

But before we get into this week’s question, don’t forget the Time And Life Mastery online course has been updated. It’s a great course that will show you how to develop a plan for your life and then how to create the process for achieving it. 

This course has helped thousands of people over the years and now it has been completely updated, re-recorded and is proving to be a bit of a best seller. So get yourself enrolled and take control of your life and your time now.

Details of the course are in the show notes. I can’t wait to see you on the course soon.

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

This week’s question comes from Heather. Heather asks: Hi Carl, I’ve been trying to get myself more organised over the last year or so, but I can’t seem to find the right apps. I’ve tried so many, but find I am soon looking for another one. Do you have any tips that will help me to find the right apps? There’s just so many to choose from. 

Thank you, Heather, for your question. I’ve written a lot about this over the years because I used to be obsessed with the latest and shiniest new apps. I tried pretty much everything out there, always telling myself that this new app was going to solve all my productivity problems. I think on some weird, deep level I hoped these new apps would do the work for me. 

The truth is, no app is ever going to do the work for you and the latest and shiniest app will have the just as many frustrations as the previous app you used. 

Let me give you an example. When the new Apple Notes app came out two or three years ago, I thought this is it! This is the perfect app. Built for the Apple ecosystem and with the Apple Pencil in mind. I thought, finally an app that would rival Evernote and give me everything I wanted. 

Ha! That didn't happen. Apple Notes is great for taking notes, there’s no question there. But you wait until you have a few hundred notes in there and you want to find a note you made several months earlier. Good luck with that. 

So while Apple Notes does look better than Evernote, in my opinion, it doesn't come close to being as good as Evernote when you want to find a specific note. 

I had the same issue when Notion came along. I spent a whole afternoon playing around with it. WOW! This app promised to do so much. It could be a place for me to store my goals and plans, be a research tool and be a replacement for Evernote. It appeared to be able to do everything for me. I was particularity drawn to the idea of it being able to act as a dashboard for me. A place where I could see all my open projects, goals and other stuff I wanted to see on a daily basis. 

As I played around with it I began to realise that while Notion could do so much, what it could do was not as good as the existing tools I was using. I could see so many frustrations. So the advantage of having everything managed in one app, was negated by the compromises I would have to make and of course, there was the problem with all those settings. When you have an app that allows you to customise almost everything from fonts, background colours and images, you are never satisfied, so you spend a lot of time messing around with them and not doing any work. (Although you convince yourself you are doing work because all these changes to your settings will somehow improve your workflow) 

So, you need to choose your apps with care. To do that, the best place to start is with a pen and piece of paper. Ask yourself what do you want your apps to do for you? 

Let’s take your to-do list manager for example. Do you prefer to see things in a simple list, or are you more of a visual person? Do you prefer to see things as cards or as lists of projects? Apps like Things, OmniFocus and Todoist will give you your to-dos in a simple list format. Or would you prefer to see things in a more Kanban layout where you see your projects as cards on a board? For that, an app like Trello or Asana would be a good fit. 

When it comes to notes, again how you want your notes to be presented to you is important. Google Keep gives a card like layout, Evernote and Apple Notes will give you a more traditional list layout. 

Another question for your notes app is how many notes will you want to keep in there? If you are planning on storing all your digital notes in the app, then Evernote or Microsoft OneNote is the way forward. If it is just a few notes, a quick place to capture your ideas, then something like Apple Notes or Google Keep would work well. But, and this is a big but, you need to choose something that works for you. 

And that really is the point here, Heather. Find something that you like and works for the way you like to work. I’ve done the “if it works for that organised person then it must work for me” thing in the past. The truth is it will not necessarily work for you. We all work differently, think differently and have different ideas about what looks nice and what doesn’t. Many people don't like the way Evernote looks, that’s okay. I’ve got past that. Many people cannot. There are plenty of functional, aesthetically pleasing apps to choose from out there. Personally, I think Microsoft OneNote looks better than Evernote, but that’s just a personal thing.

Once you have chosen what apps you want to use, then the next stage of the process begins. Learn everything you possibly can about the app. Go to YouTube, find tutorials, read blogs and go through every menu item to see what each one does. Set up a ghost project (a fake project to use for experimentation) in your chosen to do list manager and test out every possible variation you can think of. 

That’s really the trick with becoming better organised and more productive. Knowing how to use your apps. Knowing how to quickly add a new item, process that item to its correct place and being able to retrieve it when you need it quickly and effortlessly. 

And that brings me to collecting stuff. For me, this is the biggest one. If it is quick and easy to collect my to-dos and notes, I am not going to resist. If it is complicated, involves too many button clicks or I have to think too much, I will resist. Reducing the button pushes and clicks for me is vital. I have what I call “the changing trains” test. Can I easily collect a thought or idea when I am changing trains? I do actually test this. Any new way of collecting must pass that test before I adopt that new approach. If you can collect a task, idea or note while switching trains then it is fast enough. There must be a lot of people in Seoul who think I am very strange taking into my phone or watch to test while switching trains to see how fast collecting is haha.

Another consideration for me is how easy is it to organise my projects? You see, you do not want to be spending too much time inside your productivity tools. You productivity tools are not where your work happens. Your work happens in your email apps, Microsoft Word, Google Docs or PowerPoint or Keynote. The more time I spend inside my writing app, Ulysses, for example, the better. That’s where the work happens. The productivity apps I use must have drag and drop for tasks into projects for example. I can process an inbox of 15 tasks in Todoist to their rightful projects in less than five minutes. That includes adding any necessary dates, priorities or labels. The same with Evernote, I process my Evernote inbox every weekend—usually as part of my weekly review and I can easily process twenty to thirty notes in less than ten minutes. 

But processing is not the only thing that needs to be fast. Being able to search and find what you are looking for is also a crucial element. If searching for something is laborious or difficult then the app fails my tests. The app must be easy to search within. Evernote’s search is legendary. I think at the moment that one feature is what is keeping Evernote relevant. Likewise, Todoist search is incredibly fast and the search bar is at the top in every part of Todoist. 

So there you go, Heather. To find the right app you do need to do a little testing. Four things need testing:

The first is how fast can you collect your tasks, ideas and notes? Would your app pass the “changing trains” test? If not, then it won’t work for you. Find an app that you can collect your stuff quickly and easily with the minimum of clicks.

The second is, do you actually like using the app? If you don’t like the way it works or you do not like the design, then you are not going to want to use it. So choose an app that appeals to the way you work and your own aesthetic tastes. We are all different here. 

Thirdly, how fast can you process the things you collected? You want processing your things to be fast. Remember your productivity apps don’t do the work for you, they only tell you what needs doing and how. So the less time you spend inside your apps, the more work you will get done.

And finally, can you easily find what you are looking for when you need to find it? Searching is a crucial element when you are building your own productivity system. You are going to be throwing a lot of stuff in these apps and if you are not able to find what you put in there, the app fails. So check out the search function. It will be important. 

So those are the four tests. And remember, once you have learnt everything you can about these apps, then stick with them for at least a year. You need to give the app time to become part of you and part of your system. If you are constantly switching your apps you will never learn how to user them properly and no app will be good enough for you. Stick with the apps for at least a year and make them work for the way you work. 

I hope that answers your question, Heather. Thank you for sending it in. 

Thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then send me an email—carl@carlpullein.com—or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be very happy to answer your question for you. 

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

How to Reduce Your To-do List To a Manageable Level

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Is your to-do list overwhelming and the cause of a lot of your stress? This week, I answer a question about reducing your to0do list to a more manageable level.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Episode 86

Hello and welcome to episode 86 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week it’s all about getting overwhelming to-do lists down to more manageable levels. It’s having to look at a to-do list that drops off the bottom of the screen that causes so much stress and ultimately makes us not want to look at our daily to-do lists, which is really not what a to-do list is meant to do. 

Before we get into the question and answer, I would just like to thank all of you who have enrolled in the Time And Life Mastery version 3 course. Your support enables me to keep doing what I do and to help many more people become better organised and more productive and I am so grateful to you all. 

And if you are not ready to purchase an online productivity course, that’s okay. I do have a free basic guide to building your own productivity course that you can enrol in. It is a short, forty minute or so course that will give you the basics of creating a productivity system that will work for you. Remember, any system needs to work for you. This course gives you the foundations on which to build your own system and to help you become better organised and more productive. 

Details for this free course are in the show notes.

This week’s question comes from Claire. Claire asks: Hi Carl. Every time I look at my to-do list I just feel completely overwhelmed and never complete it. Every day I have to move a lot of tasks to another day. Am I doing anything wrong? 

Hi Claire, I'm pretty sure you are not the only one experiencing this. With so much being thrown at us every day from all sorts of places it is very hard to get everything we plan to do each day done. However, there are a few techniques you can use that can help you. 

The first is to get realistic about what you can and cannot do in a day. We often think we can do a lot more than we actually can. 

A few years ago, I did an experiment to find what the optimum number of tasks I could complete each day was—I know, I lead a very exciting life— I monitored my daily task completion for a week and averaged it out. It turned out I averaged twelve tasks per day. That was a bit of a shock. I always thought I was efficient and got a lot more tasks done than that, but there it was, in black and white, so to speak, twelve meaningful tasks per day. 

Now I did not include my routine tasks in that number—you know the little things that just have to be done each day that do not improve your life in any way. Taking the garbage out, walking the dog, doing the washing up etc. 

Having this information was great though. It meant I could plan my days with realism and not optimism. 

You see, our brains have no real concept of time or context when we think about our work. That’s why when we think about a project we would like to complete we sometimes believe we can do it all in one day. The reality is you can’t—not if you want to do the work to a high degree of quality. It is also why a task such as a reply to an email, can often cause anxiety because our brain is telling us it will take hours when in reality it would only take around ten minutes. 

This is why using your calendar to plan out your day is so helpful. Because calendars are organised by time slot you can allocate those slots to the work you have to do. It gives you a realistic perspective on how much time you have available to do your work each day. 

Going back to the number of tasks you complete each day, if you do the same experiment, then average out the number of tasks you complete per day you will find your optimum daily number of tasks you can complete. I would then suggest you reduce that number by two. 

For me, that got me to ten tasks per day. 

Now the beauty of just having ten tasks on your main daily to-do list is it never looks overwhelming. It’s manageable and is based on the reality of the number of tasks I can complete each day. There is no point in me fighting this. Sure, I would love to get more tasks completed per day, but the reality is I cannot. 

Instead what I had to do was become better at prioritising my day—which, when you think about it, is no bad thing—It forces me to decide what tasks are important. The tasks that will move my life and projects forward, and what tasks are what I like to describe as vanity tasks—tasks that feel good to check off, but do not really move anything forward. Things like: clean up my desk, reorganise my notes and clean up my to-do list.

When you develop your skill at prioritising you begin to get much better at moving the right things forward. What I also found was that projects that were not moving forward consistently began moving towards completion much faster. There was a lot of wins in this small, but significant change or approach.

As for your routines, a lot of these don't need to be on your to-do list at all because there are some natural triggers. A natural trigger is something that naturally reminds you to do something. You know when to take the garbage out because the trash can is full. You know when to refuel your car because the fuel warning light will come on and you know to do the laundry because your laundry basket is full. All these are what are called natural triggers. You don't also need a task on your to-do list. 

Look around for these natural triggers. They are your best friend. 

Now for the routine tasks that do need to be on your to-do list, then these can be tagged as routines so you can filter them out. Again, this depends on the app you are using, or if you are a pen and paper person, you could have them listed in your notebook on a separate page and you can go through them one by one to make sure you have done them.

When I add my routines to the ten tasks I have committed to, I find I am completing on average fifteen to twenty tasks per day and I am not having to reschedule many tasks at all. A lot of my routine tasks are optional, but I often find at the end of the day, I only have three or four of these left to complete so I just get them done. 

Another way to help reduce overwhelming lists is to make full use of tags and filters. Now, this depends on what app you are using. If you use OmniFocus, you can create perspectives which allow you to filter out tasks you cannot do or do not want to do right now. Likewise, with Todoist, you can create filters to remove tasks you do not want to see first thing in the morning. 

I filter tasks by the time of day. I use the flags in Todoist for this. Red flags are the objectives that must be completed that day. I limit these to just two per day. I use orange flags for my morning tasks and blue flags for the afternoon. 

For those of you not using Todoist, you can use tags. Just create a tag for AM and a tag for PM and when you plan your day... you do plan your day don't you?— you can add those tags based on where you are going to be that day. This way, when you start the day because you have already decided what you will do in the morning you can just open up the tag, filter or perspective for the right time of day and get started. If you have prioritised your day and limited the number of tasks you commit to for that day, then this list is going to be much smaller and ultimately much more motivating. 

Finally, plan your day the day before. This for me is a no-brainer. When we process our inboxes, we often add dates to tasks that are not really based on the day they really need to be done. We tend to date things wishfully. We date tasks for dates we “wish” to complete them. The problem with this approach is that often we end up with days—towards the end of the week funnily enough—where we have far too many tasks. If you sit down for ten minutes or so at the end of the day, look at your list for tomorrow, check your calendar to make sure you have the time available and make a decision on what tasks you will complete and when you fill always start the day with a rock solid, achievable plan for the day. This is what I call the 2+8 prioritisation technique. Ask yourself what are my two objectives for tomorrow—the tasks I will complete whatever happens and what are the eight other tasks I would like to complete? 

Once you have that done, you can go home, relax and know your day is planned and you have set yourself an achievable amount of work for the day. No more overwhelm no more stress or anxiety. Just that great feeling of knowing you have everything under control. 

Thank you very much, Claire, for your question and thank you to all of you for listening to this episode. If you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then just send me a quick email, carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. 

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

How To Stay Productive When You Have Young Kids

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Do you have the patter of tiny feet around your home? Are you raising a bunch of lovely kids? How’s your productivity going? In this week’s episode find out a few strategies to cope with those little bundles of joy called kids.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Episode 85

Hello and welcome to episode 85 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a great question about coping with a young family. Now anyone with children will understand the difficulties these little ones pose to our overall productivity. But with a few simple adjustments and a little shift in your mindset, this period of life does not need to be stressful or too harmful to our productivity. 

Don’t forget, if you haven’t enrolled in the third edition of Time And Life Mastery yet, you should do so soon. The early-bird discount period ends tomorrow (Midnight Monday) and I would hate for you to miss out on not only a fantastic, life-transforming course, but also a great price - just $85.00.

For those $85.00 you get Time and Life Mastery version 3, the Updated Time And Life Mastery Workbook AND… You also get free access to Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s an incredible value for just a tiny investment. 

So go on, get yourself enrolled today and begin transforming your life into a life you want to live.

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

This week’s question comes from Matt. Matt asks: Hi Carl, I'm a father of 2 daughters, (3 and 1) and naturally they take or impact a lot of my time. I've been trying to build a productivity system for a long time that works for me, as well as implementing a lot of the tips and routines suggested by you and others. However, everything I have found seems to rely on building a predictable routine for oneself, which is near impossible with children. Do you have any tips that will help me? 

Hi Matt, Thank you so much for this question. I am sure there are a lot of people experiencing this joyous, life-changing experience as well as the challenges that come along with it.

Having small children around is a huge demand on your time and disrupts the most organised of people. But let’s be honest here, raising children is likely to be the biggest responsibility and best experience you will ever have in your life and one you should enjoy, cherish and let it be where you do your best work not just professionally but as a parent. 

The first point is as you say, Matt, it is almost impossible to stick to any kind of plan when your kids wake up at different times each day and in all likelihood go off to sleep at different times too. So what can you do?

Well, the first thing to understand is if you are trying to stick to a routine at the same time each day you are only going to be fighting yourself. It is not going to happen with any consistency and ultimately you will fail. On that point no matter what you do your kids will win in the end. So rather than have a set time for morning routines, it would be better to start your morning routines when you wake up. Now that could be 4am or it could be 7am the key is you begin the day the same way. 

Now we all follow some kind of routine each day. When we wake up we make our coffee, we brush our teeth, shower etc. So whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you do still follow some kind of routine each day. With kids, you have added tasks. Breakfast needs preparing, kids need dressing etc. All these routines are things you just do because you have to do them. 

It can be useful to have a morning ‘have I done?’ checklist. What this means is you have a list of things you have to do in a morning - not wish to do things - wish to do things should never be on this list. This list is for things that you absolutely have to do and all it is doing is asking “have I done this?” 

This question—“have I done this?”—is a powerful question because rather than telling you to do something it is asking you whether you have done it and if you haven’t you can decide if you want to do it or not. It gives you a better sense of calm, when all around you may be chaos. I know this might sound simplistic, but it works. You should try it. It is far less commanding and gives you an option to decide. 

Now as an aside here, if you create this morning checklist on a little whiteboard in your kitchen you can involve your children in the process too. You can ask them the questions one by one and they can check off the tasks as you go through them. By starting them young you are installing habits that they will get a great deal of benefit from in later life. Now that’s a win-win for all of you.

Now as for your own personal morning routines, again you need to be flexible. You will have to accept there will be days when you are not going to be able to fit in exercise, or reading. Your kids are going to demand your attention. But from a parent’s perspective, that’s a great thing. You are getting some quality time with your kids. If possible, involve your kids in your exercise. You can ask them to sit on your back while you do press-ups for example, or you can get them to hold your knees when you do your stomach crunches. Another thing you can have them do is press the stopwatch start button and tell you when you have done 30 seconds or a minute. There are endless ways of involving your kids in an exercise programme. 

Of course, you might not get the exercise session you want, but at least you get some exercise and you have just given your children some quality time with you. 

Okay, what about your personal projects

For the most part, your projects are going to have to be realistic. You will need to reduce the things you used to do before your children came along. There’s no point in thinking that your kids will all go to bed at the same time, sleep soundly and wake up at the same time each day. That’s never going to happen. So if you have any thoughts about being able to micro-manage your day you are heading for a big surprise. That won't happen. But that’s okay.

Rather than micro-scheduling your day, you are better working from a master list of projects and working on them as and when you get time. I’ve found it’s often better to plan what you would like to do on a weekly basis and keep that plan to the minimum of projects. 

It’s really all about what you can do in the moments of time you get when your kids are either asleep or engaged in their own activities. 

Your kids might be watching tv or drawing. While they are doing that you can do some of your own work. Of course, once again it is not ideal, but doing that is better than not doing anything at all. Just being able to move your projects forward a little is better than not moving forward at all. 

With all that said, collecting your stuff and spending ten to fifteen minutes each day to organise that stuff should be possible even with the most energetic of kids. Kids drop off at some stage and when they get organising. It might be your only chance all day. 

You could, of course, do what my mother did when she wanted some quiet time. She’d give me a spoonful of cough medicine and within twenty minutes I was sound asleep. I didn't turn out that bad... or did I? hahaha oh those were the days. 

Now there is the other part to this and that is to negotiate time with your partner. Some friends of mine came up with an arrangement where when the husband came home from work—usually around 7—their young son was his responsibility. He was also responsible for their son on a Saturday. 

Those Saturdays turned into some huge adventures from parking in the car park near the end of the local airport’s runway to watch the aeroplanes land and take-off to fishing at a local river. It was not only a great experience for their son it was hugely beneficial for the husband too because he was able to get time away from screens and work. 

Whatever way you look at it, having kids running around the house is a joyous thing. For our own personal productivity, we need to adapt and create systems and strategies that allow us to have that important quality time with our kids and carve out some time for ourselves to work on our own projects. 

It’s not easy, of course, but with a little foresight, creativity and a good strong list of things you want to complete is not impossible. 

I should point out that the one thing you need to keep a tab on is your own sleep cycle. A lack of sleep will kill any ideas you have about staying productive, no matter how organised you are. Pay close attention to your own sleep. If you are not getting enough, prioritise catch-up time. This isn't about reducing your available time still further. This is more about making sure when you have time available it is not sabotaged by your own exhaustion. A lack of sleep will lead to mistakes which will need fixing, missed deadlines and poor performance. It just isn't worth it. If you are exhausted and you have a choice between clearing your email inbox and getting a twenty-minute nap. Take the nap every time. 

Your email can wait. Your sleep cannot. 

Whether you have kids or not, no matter how busy you are when you are at home, you will always have pockets of time to get on with the things you want to get on with. If you have a master list of projects you can look at when you do have a pocket of time, then no matter how busy you are you will be able to make progress on something. And that is what it is all about. Taking advantage of those pockets of time to get the stuff you want done. 

I hope that goes some way to answering your question, Matt and thank you for allowing me to use your question. 

Thank you too to all of you for listening. Don't forget if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, just email me, carl@carlpulllein.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

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




How To Finally Get Your Productivity System To Stick

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Episode 84

Hello and welcome to episode 84 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, collecting is all about speed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





How To Set Up A Productivity System And Stick With It

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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Episode 83

Hello and welcome to episode 83 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

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

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

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

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

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

More details of this course can be found on the course website which is www.timeandlifemastery.com. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, for the other 50%. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have to stop. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two words... self-discipline. 

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Richard, for your question and that you all for listening. Don’t forget if you have a question then you can email at carl@carlpullein.com 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. 

How To Use COD In A Paper Environment

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So you work in a paper based office or work hybridly? Then this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast is just for you. 

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Episode 82

Hello and welcome to episode 82 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've received a lot of questions about how to implement the COD system in a paper environment. Is it possible? Well, the answer is yes it is possible and today I will explain how to do it. 

But before we get into the question if you are struggling with time management and productivity and don't have a system at all, then take forty minutes and do my FREE COD course. 

It will give you the framework in which to create a system that works for you. COD is very flexible and as you will see today is not just designed for the digital world. You can use it in an analogue world too. 

Details of how to enrol in the course are in the show notes. 

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

This week’s question comes from Jerri and Janet. They ask: Hi Carl, we work in a largely paper-based work environment. How would you go about organising your work when you have to deal with paper and paper files?

Thank you, Jerri and Janet, for your questions. 

At its very core COD is simple and incredibly flexible. It’s intentionally so because one size does not fit all and we all have different ways of organising and working. Many of us love to develop ideas with pen and paper, others prefer to collect everything into a digital system. And the truth is there are no right or wrong ways to do this. The only right way to do it is the way that works for you. 

So, to implement COD in a paper-based way you first need to get yourself a notebook. Now you want to get a notebook that is robust and one you can carry with you wherever you go. This will become your to-do list manager. 

Now just as an aside here, back in the days when I used a hybrid system, I carried a little pocket notebook with me. One with easy to tear off sheets. This I carried in my pocket whenever I couldn't carry my main notebook. I used it for those ‘just in case moments’. Times like when I was having lunch or dinner. This way I still had a way to collect everything no matter where I was or what I was doing. 

Okay, so you have your notebook to manage all your to-dos, now where do you put all the incoming paper? Well, you will also need an in-basket. Now, your in-basket should be at your main workstation. If you work from an office and home, it might be a good idea to have two in-baskets. However, I never felt the need for two. Because I was collecting into a notebook I carried with me everywhere I went I just tore off the notes and put them into my in-basket at my home office when I was next there. 

Now the notebook you are using for your to-do list manager is where you put your lists. All you really need is a master list and a daily list. Put everything on your master list and when you do the 2+8 prioritisation at the end of the day you can put tasks from master list to your daily list. 

But again, how you organise your daily to-do list is entirely up to you - it has to work for you. But even wit paper, you can still operate the 2+8 Prioritisation system. Every evening, before you go to bed you open up your notebook, with the next day’s date at the top and start with your two objectives. Then leave a line space and write you eight focus tasks for the day—the eight tasks you really want to complete. 

You can use the right-hand page for your notes for the day, observations and little reminders if you wish. 

Okay, now for all your paper files. 

For this, you will need a way to store all your project materials. The best way is to get yourself a filing cabinet, but that might be hard to do these days. Now when I was transitioning to a digital system I used a shelf on my bookcase next to my desk. I could see the names of the files clearly on the folders I used so it was always easy to access papers I needed. 

The key with this system is to make sure once a project is completed or you no longer need the documents you were keeping you remove them. Either throw them away or archive them in a box somewhere. You do not want to get in that awful position of having a mix of completed and active projects all in the same place. You would just go numb to all the files you have in there. 

Now your notes, use your notebook. 

Again, you want to have your current notes with you at all times. Here all you need to do is start at the back of your notebook. Keep your daily lists at the front and your notes at the back. You can use post-it notes to separate projects and give you easy access to your notes. The thing here is not to have too many notebooks. I know a lot of people have different notebooks for different projects and that’s okay if it works for you. Personally, I never liked that idea, and so kept meeting notes and projects ideas at the back of my one current notebook. 

One area I would not move to a digital system is my calendar. These days, airlines and other places you may make bookings will send you a calendar link that adds all the right information you need to your calendar. Likewise, when you use a digital calendar you can share calendars with family and friends. All you need to do is print off your calendar for the week after you have done your weekly review and fold it into your notebook. You can then add and delete events by hand. 

One of my friends here in Korea, a very successful businessman and teacher, does this every week. Every Monday morning his assistant prints off his calendar for the week and he folds it into his little pocketbook. He can reference that paper anytime he wants to see where he needs to be and when. He is one person I’ve met who has never missed an appointment, so it must work. 

Now speaking of printing things out, if you want to maintain some digital system and make things a little easier for your processing and storing, then remember almost all to-do list managers do give you the option to print out your daily list. Todoist, for example, can send you an email every morning with your daily list. It is organised beautifully and you can print that out. You can add new tasks, cross of tasks when you have done them or add a new date and update your system when you get back to your computer. This would actually be a great way for those of you who like using pen and paper. It allows you the ability to organise digitally but still maintain your daily task management in an analogue way. 

In many ways, if you do print out your daily to-do list and carry that with you all day, crossing off completed tasks and adding new tasks to that one sheet of paper, it will give you a great way to review your day and plan the next. All you would need to do is give yourself the ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to sit down with your computer and update everything add and plan out your next day. Sounds almost idyllic to me. 

Now, remember, while paper-based working still exists, the digital way is a lot more efficient and means you can have access to all your notes and files through the cloud. If you have a smartphone then you still have access to your Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud. So it is worth thinking about still maintaining your files in the cloud. Of course, there may still be documents that you need to retain hard copies of and for that you can create physical files. What you do need to do though is to make sure you are maintaining those files and keeping them current. 

COD is very flexible. It is designed to be a framework that allows you to collect your tasks, ideas and events into a single place, give you time at the end of the day to organise those things you collected and focuses you on doing the work. How you collect and organise is up to you. All you need to do is find the best method for you. That can take a bit of experimenting, but it is worth it because once you do have a strong framework in place your effectiveness and efficiency improve and you become a lot less stressed and overwhelmed. 

So there you go Jerri and Janet. I hope that has answered your question and given you some ideas about how to use COD with your paper-based working. 

Thank you for your wonderful question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, please email me at carl@carlpullein.com or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

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

How To Turn Your Ideas Into Achievable Projects

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Podcast 81

Do you have difficulty completing projects? Then this week’s episode of the Working With… Podcast is just for you.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 81 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 question about a problem several years ago I had. That is being excellent at starting projects and having ideas, but terrible at seeing those projects through to completion. It took a lot of self-analysis and introspection to understand why I did that and to change my behaviours so I would start completing projects. 

 But, before we get into that, I'd just like to remind you all that I currently have a Spring Sale on where you can get my Your Digital Life 2.0 online course for just $65.00 and if you buy that course this week, I am throwing in From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days completely free. 

When you add in the free access you get to my Email Mastery and Ultimate Goal Planning Course you get with Your Digital life 2.0 you are getting a package worth $240 for just $65.00. 

I must be mad! So go on, get yourself enrolled today as this offer will end very very soon… Well, this week actually.

Okay onto this week’s question and 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 Daniel. Daniel asks: Hi Carl, thank you for all the content you put out. Could you help me? I have hundreds of ideas and I collect all these into Evernote. But when I look at my list of ideas I realise that I am just not completing any of them. I think it is because I don't know where to start. Do you have any tips that might help?

Hi Daniel, thank you for your question. 

I should congratulate you on actually collecting your ideas. Far too many people don't collect their ideas and just leave them in their heads only to see them disappear as soon as their attention is diverted and never surface again. 

So what we need to do is see collecting and developing your ideas as part of a process. You need to give each idea some time to develop. 

So, you collect an idea and while you are still buzzing about it you should take five or ten minutes to develop it. A one-line title in your notes app is not going to inspire you very much in a few days time. So take five minutes now and note down some thoughts to give your idea some context. 

Let's say I have an idea for a new course. I will collect that idea in Evernote and then take a few minutes to jot down the purpose of the course and what I would expect students to learn from it. I would also probably write out a few lesson titles. I know saying that now sounds like quite a lot, but in reality, it is only a few lines. 

Once I have a few lines expanding my idea I can leave it. 

Often I will leave the idea for a few days. For me, if I cannot stop thinking about an idea and I keep adding to the note then I know it will become a project and I need to spend some time to really develop it. 

For this purpose, I use a tag in Evernote called “Incubator”. 

Now I should explain about my incubator. This is a tag in Evernote that has no more than ten notes in it. If I have additional ideas I can still collect them, but they can only go in my incubator if I move another note out. 

This keeps my open, active, in development ideas to a maximum of ten. It also ensures that whatever is in there is still relevant. 

Now the thing about ideas is they are only moving forward when you are working on them. It can be easy to collect your next billion-dollar idea in your notes but over time, if you don’t do anything with it, it soon disappears under all the other notes and stuff you collect. So you need to keep them utmost and foremost in your mind. 

To do this you should make it a habit to review your ideas—those in your incubator—regularly. I look through my ideas every Wednesday and Sunday (when I do my weekly review) I choose Wednesday because by Wednesday I have usually finished creating the content I want to put out that week and I have time and mental space to think of new ideas. 

Here, what you do is a quick scan. Does anything jump out at you? If it does, open up the note and set yourself 15 minutes or so and really dive deep thrashing out some concepts and ideas. Get them all written down add them to your idea. 

Now, for most of you, there will be one idea that is consuming you more than others. Often when I have a new online course idea this will be constantly on my thoughts. Because the idea was collected into my Evernote inbox it is very easy to open up Evernote and see the note at the top of my notes list. I can then add additional ideas to the note as they come to me. Often by the time I reach my weekly review, the note has developed into a long list and that is a sure sign that this is a project worth taking to the next stage. 

The opposite can happen too. Around this time last year, I had an idea to do a build your own Google productivity system. For a couple of days, I was really excited about it. I collected a lot of notes and decided to take it to the next stage and build a project out of it. 

Now to build a project out of an idea what I do is allocate an hour of development time. Usually in the early morning when my brain is fresh and at it’s most creative. I go through my collected ideas and pull out all the next actions and list them at the bottom of the note. Once the obvious next action tasks are out, I will copy and paste them into Todoist as a project and allocate time on my calendar for doing those action steps. 

As I was developing this project, I realised I didn't have enough knowledge of the Google productivity apps and when I investigated further I decided that I would need to learn a lot more than I had time to learn. So I abandoned the project. You see projects can be abandoned at any time. It best, of course, to abandon projects in their early stages, but for your personal projects that do not involve other people, you are free to abandon them at any time. 

You see, you do need to be realistic, Daniel. There are a lot of considerations to take into account. For one do you have the actual time to do this project? How many other projects do you have going on at the moment? I’ve found if I have more than three active projects going on at any one time I am having to compromise on time to be able to allocate enough time to each one. That’s never a good thing.

One way to overcome this—If you can do it—is to allocate one project to focus on each week. Right now, I have all my focus on Time and Life Mastery 3, my biggest online course. I have not just allocated this week to this project, but I have given over the whole month. This means outside my regular work, producing this podcast, recording my YouTube videos and writing my blog posts, all other work time is being spent on that one project. I know that for me to get it planned out, recorded and edited so it can be ready for publishing next month, I have to focus completely on this project. 

And that leads nicely to my next tip. That is set yourself a deadline. Of course, with your regular work projects, you may have a deadline imposed on you. But for your own personal projects, you get to control when you complete these. I often see people creating amazing projects and then calling them a “hobby project” which is just a get out clause so you don’t have to finish them. If you are serious about the project and it is something you really want to do, then set a deadline. The truth is without a deadline, you will never finish the project. 

Okay, so there’s quite a lot in this week’s answer so let me summarise what you can do. The first step is to make sure you are collecting your ideas. Remember, if you decide later to abandon the idea, that’s fine. That’s far better than not collecting the idea in the first place. 

Once you have collected the idea, the next stage is what I call the discovery stage. This is where you develop your idea, throw links and other support materials into the mix and be aware of your own limitations in knowledge and time. How long this takes is really up to you. Take as long as you need to really develop the idea. 

Then leave it for a few days. Let your subconscious mind absorb everything and think about it. Then when you come back to it, you will either decide it’s not for you, or you will decide to move on with it. Moving on with it means going through the notes you have collected and pulling out all the next actions and moving them over to your to-do list manager as a project. 

Then be realistic about your available time and choose the right time to begin working on your project. 

The key is to really restrict what you work on at any one time. Keep an incubator file for no more than ten ideas at any one time. Less if you can. I used to keep 20 ideas in my incubator but soon found a lot of those ideas were not getting touched. That’s why I reduced it to ten. I sometimes think ten is too many, but for now, it works for me. 

Finally, I would advise you have a someday / maybe folder somewhere. This could be in your to-do list manager or your notes app. Inside your someday/maybe folder you keep all your project ideas and other things you have ideas about and review this folder once every month or so looking for something you would like to work on next. This prevents you from losing your ideas and will always give you a feed of new projects to work on whenever you want to work on them. 

I hope that answers your question, Daniel. Thank you for sending in your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget you too can have any of your productivity, time management or goal planning questions answered by emailing me—carl@carlpullein.com or DMing me on Facebook or Twitter.

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

How to Use Your Calendar Properly

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Podcast 80

Your calendar, probably the most powerful productivity tool you have in your toolbox. On this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to get the most out it.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

Hello and welcome to episode 80 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s episode is all about the humble calendar. They’ve been around for a very long time is one form or another and because of their simplicity have helped millions of people through the ages to schedule their work and to create amazing things. 

Before I get in to this week’s question, though, I wanted to give you a heads up to a couple of very special offers I have on at the moment, not only do I have my Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life course at 50% off, I also have a Spring Special on where you can get two courses for the price of one. Yes, you can get From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days for FREE when you buy Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s a value of over $240 for just $65.00. 

That 2 for 1 offer is on for a limited time only so hurry. Remember, with all my courses once you are enrolled you are enrolled for life and will get all future updates for free. All the details are in this week’s show notes

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

This week’s question comes from Sanjid. Sanjid asks: Carl, I really struggle to know how to use my calendar. I use a to-do list manager and I don’t know what I should be putting on my calendar and what to put on my to-do list. Can you help clarify things for me? 

Hi Sanjid, thank you for your question. It’s a very valid question and what to put on a calendar and what to put on a to-do list can cause quite a lot of confusion at times. 

Before we go into the specifics lets take a step back and look at how not just your calendar and to-do list should work but also your notes as well.

We have three basic tools in our productivity armoury these days. The calendar, to-do list manager and your notes app. All three have a specific job to do. In a very basic way, your calendar tells you where you need to be and with who on what day and time. Your to-do list tells you what tasks you need to perform on a specific day or within a specific project and your notes is where you keep all your ideas, meeting notes and other similar reference materials. 

Now a good productivity habit is to keep a hard edge between these three tools. What that means is you do not duplicate. When you keep a clean edge between these tools you don’t need to have tasks in your calendar or events in your to-do list. 

What should happen is you look at your calendar and see what meetings and appointments you have and where you need to be, and then look at your to-do list manager to see what tasks you can complete in between those meetings and appointments or if there is anything you need to do at a particular location. 

For example, Let’s say you start the day and look at your calendar. Your calendar tells you you have a meeting with your boss at 9:30am at your office. You can then go to your to-do list manager and pull up your tag or label for your boss and see what actions you have that relate to your boss. During the meeting, you would take notes into your notes app, and after the meeting transfer any tasks to your to-do list manager—and that should not take you more than a few minutes. 

That’s essentially how everything should work. 

The whole point of keeping these tools separate is to avoid overwhelm and a confusing mess. I’ve seen people try and keep their tasks and appointments in a calendar or trying to keep everything in a hybrid calendar, task list and notes manager and in almost every case it has ended in tears. You end up with things all over the place and in today’s world of massive distractions, it becomes incredibly easy to miss something important. When that happens you lose trust in your whole system and then things become worse because you no longer collect everything.

Your calendar is also your best planning tool. When you use your calendar properly—for events—you can see what your future days look like. You will know when you have a forthcoming business trip or workshop and on those days you can remove all but the essential tasks from your task list. You know you will not have much time to do tasks on those days because you need to be fully engaged in your workshop or you will be involved in back to back meetings. On those days you switch into what I like to call “collection mode”. This is where you are not completing tasks, instead, you are just collecting. 

It also means you can plan ahead. Let’s say you have an offsite two-day workshop on Wednesday and Thursday next week and you have an important project update to present on the following Friday morning. When you have the workshop and the presentation scheduled in your calendar, you will see that and know immediately that you need to get the presentation completed by Tuesday at the latest leaving you only needing to practice your presentation on Thursday evening or early Friday morning. Alternatively, you may see the workshop and presentation and decide to request a postponement of the presentation to the following week. Without that kind of alert, you are going to be worrying about preparing the presentation while you are doing the workshop which means you will not be able able to fully engage with the workshop and so not get the full benefit of what you are learning. 

In my experience workshops and business trips are often planned quite far into the future. I know, for example, I have a workshop in Singapore in September, which is four months away. At the moment, I do not need to do anything about it, but as it is a four-day workshop I will need to arrange hotel accommodation and, of course, my flights to and from Singapore. The event is scheduled in my calendar as an all-day event which prevents me from double booking myself, and I have a project for the workshop in my to-do list manager that will tell me to organise my flights and hotel accommodation on the 1st July—two months before the event. 

And that is a good example of a to-do list and a calendar working together. My calendar is telling where I will be, and my to-do list manager tells me what I need to do. 

Of course, there will be other tasks associated with the workshop. I will need to arrange to cancel any classes I have on the days I am in Singapore and I will need to block the dates on my client scheduling system so I do not double book myself. All these are tasks and are in my to-do list manager. They are tasks, not events.

And that is the clear blue water between your calendar and your to-do list manager. Tasks go on your to-do list, events go on your calendar. 

What you want to develop is a calendar that allows you to quickly see what you have on, and where you will be on a particular day so you can make granular decisions about what tasks you will do on those days. 

When you put everything on your calendar—tasks and events—it becomes incredibly difficult to see at a glance what you need to do. When something looks full and busy you will resist looking at it and when you do look at it you will feel overwhelmed and things will get missed. 

Now there is another area where your calendar can help you and that is with doing focused work. I’ve found, psychologically, that when I schedule a period of writing time on my calendar I am much less likely to resist doing it. I have a recurring task on my calendar every Monday morning for writing. Now, generally I will write my weekly blog post at that time, but occasionally, I have something else that needs writing that is important. Because I use the general term “writing time” on my calendar, I get to choose what I write. Likewise, I have time blocked out on a Friday afternoon for recording my YouTube videos. My calendar does not have anything specific, just “video recording time”. That way I know I will have a three-hour block to record videos. If I need to record anything specific it will be in my to-do list manager and that task will come up on Friday so I know I have something specific to record. 

This all means that when I look at my calendar either the night before or when I am doing a weekly review I get to see the blocks of times I have allocated for the work I have to do and I get to see where I have gaps for doing errands or other unscheduled work that comes up such as phone calls, sorting out student issues or just to take some time out and get some fresh air. 

Finally, a tip for those of you struggling to fit in your hobbies, side projects or exercise to your week. Schedule the time in your calendar. Every Sunday afternoon when I do my weekly review I schedule out my exercise for the week. I like to exercise five times a week and exercise is an important part of my life. So it gets scheduled. I can look at my calendar and see what I have on and where I need to be and then fit in my exercise time. Again, once it is on my calendar it becomes much more difficult to find an excuse not to exercise. It also helps me to prepare mentally for it and to decide—based on how I feel on the day—what kind of exercise I will do. 

So there you go, Sanjit. I hope that has helped you and given you some ideas on how best to use your calendar. Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you 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 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

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



Script

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

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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:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher



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. 





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



Script

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 (carl@carlpullein.com) 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.