Ep 70 | How To Get Your Team On Board With Productivity Tools

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to use productivity apps for group working.

You can also listen on:

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Hello and welcome to episode 70 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 am answering a question about how to use the productivity tools we all love with our team so that everyone knows what needs doing and when.

Before I get to the answer, I’d like to thank everyone who has enrolled in the 2019 edition of Your Digital Life. I am so honoured and blessed to be able to help so many people with their productivity and time management (and goals). I do this for you, and I want you to know I am always willing to help in whatever way I can to remove stress, overwhelm and help you all become better organised and more productive. 

If you haven’t enrolled in the course yet, now’s a great time to do so. There’s updated videos, a brand new workbook and of course you get a FREE copy of Your Digital Life 2.0, the book. More details about the course are in the show notes. So check it out, if you really want to become better at managing all your work and commitments, this is certainly the course for you.

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

This week’s question comes from Daniel. Daniel asks; I work in a small team with three core people. We share a calendar for events, Todoist for tasks and Evernote for project notes. Do you have any tips for getting better collaboration with these tools? 

Hi Daniel, thank you for your question. 

This is one of those areas of productivity I find a lot of small teams miss out on. I know most companies now use a company and department-wide calendar either through Microsoft Exchange or Google, but other tools we all love and use every day for our personal lives have built-in collaboration features too and when used with our calendar tools can help keep teams on track and also allows managers to know instantly what is happening without having to distract an employee with questions. Of course, these tools work exceptionally well when you are working with remote teams.

Let’s look at a to-do list manager first. Now I am very familiar with Todoist, and I do use Asana for my Kanban project view—both of which have excellent collaboration features. I know many other to-do list managers out there, including Trello, allow for collaboration. When set up, this feature allows you to allocate tasks to your team. This means there is some accountability within your team and you can all see a project develop. Often there is a shared inbox so team members can take ownership of a new task that comes in. 

From a managerial perspective, this has obvious benefits. At any moment in time, you can review a project to see how it is developing and be alerted to any bottlenecks or issues. This does depend on how you set it up though. One tip I give companies I work with is to create an area or sub-project within the main project called “issues”. This area is where team members can add issues that come up and if necessary assign the issue to the person who can best deal with it. We have to be realistic here, it would be a very rare project that had no issues at all. Issues and problems are just a part of life and need dealing with. Having a place within a project where everyone involved can review these issues generally leads to them be solved much quicker than if they were hanging around in someone’s head. 

Using a notes app such as Microsoft’s OneNote or Evernote is also a great way to collaborate. Both these note-taking apps have fantastic abilities to collaborate with team members and one of the best ways to use it is to keep meeting notes that can be added to by all the people involved in the project. Keeping meeting notes and planning steps in there creates a kind of Wiki area where existing and new team members can get up to speed very quickly with a project. 

One of the greatest advantages of using tools such as these is there is less need to go around disturbing people with unnecessary questions so they can get on with their work in a much more focused way. 

However, while all these tools are great to have, the difficulty is getting everyone on board with them. In my experience within teams, you have a mix of people. Some love technology and will enthusiastically adopt new technologies, particularly if they can see the benefit of using them. Others are less enthusiastic and need a bit of encouragement to get them onboard. And of course, these tools only work if team members are using them properly and updating the information regularly. So how do you do that?

The most important thing is to make sure all members of your team are fully trained to use these tools. I’ve found when working with companies that these collaboration efforts fail not because people resist using them, but because team leaders do not invest enough time to train their colleagues. When a team leader introduces a new tool to help with collaboration that they have been using for many years they are afflicted with the “curse of knowledge”. They know the tools too deeply and so when they explain how to use them to their team members they explain it in such an advanced way the team members are left confused. When that happens the tools do not get used. 

A few tips here:

Firstly, create a shared note that can be used as an onboarding tool. You can put in there all the instructions on how to use the apps and, more importantly, why you are using them. Leaders should also invest enough time with their team showing them what they expect to see and how to do it. 

The important thing is your team understand the clear benefit to them for using these tools. If you do not ‘sell’ the benefits and explain why these tools will make their lives much easier, they will resist using them. 

I should point out that if your company does not allow third-party apps on company computers you can still create the same functionality using Microsoft Office or Google Docs. You can use spreadsheets for tasks and Word or Docs for notes. It’s not ideal, but when done well, can still give the same benefits to the team as a whole. 

Another tip for team leaders is when you do adopt these collaboration tools, you must stop checking with your team if they have done their assigned tasks. I have found that when leaders do not trust the tools, that trickles down into the team. Remember, the biggest benefit to using these tools is everyone is clear about what needs doing, by when and who is responsible for each task. If leaders are still calling, emailing and interrupting their team members with requests for updates then the whole system falls apart. Success with implementing these tools starts at the top. Without the leaders fully engaging with them, then it just is not going to work. 

Other tools such as Slack and Twist can also be a big help here, but I do have a word of warning. There are a lot of collaboration tools available and if you adopt too many of them things will go wrong and miscommunication will happen. This all comes back to keeping things simple. If you are thinking about beginning a system like this then keep it as simple as possible. By that I mean to restrict the number of tools you are using for collaboration. For example, use only one tool for notes and one tool for tasks. Better yet, find an application where everything is kept in one place. While I do not recommend that for personal productivity, within a team, with many different technology abilities between members, it is far better to go with the “less is more” philosophy. 

The most important part of this is you get everyone on your team involved and committed. If just one team member is not fully committed to using these tools it will not work effectively. I’ve worked with teams where the leader hides behind their lack of technology awareness and abilities by continuing to pick up the phone and ask their team for status updates. This has to stop if the leader wants it to work. In reality, the team leader needs to be the most knowledgable about the apps. When leaders adopt these tools completely, it is not long before the whole team does and when that happens you achieve that seamless collaboration system where everyone knows what needs doing, what is being done and at a glance can see exactly where a project is. 

We are rapidly moving towards a remote working world. Where people all over the world can work together as if they were all working in the same office. Because of time differences between continents, these tools make the whole process easy and effective. A great example of this working is Doist, the company behind great apps like Todoist and Twist. They are a fully remote company with people all over the world. From Asia to Europe and North and South America, their teams work together across multiple time zones and when one team member is at work, their colleague is fast asleep in a completely different time zone. This kind of working allows managers and leaders to employ the best people in the world, no matter where they are based, and they know the work is getting done with a quick view of a project in a to-do list manager. 

So to sum up, Daniel, if you want this way of work to work effectively, you need to make sure that team leaders are fully onboard with the tools and that every team member is properly trained to use the tools you want to use. Managers and leaders need to understand that if they want an update on a project they must not fall into old habits and pick up the phone, they need to go into the project in the to-do list or notes app and get the answer to their query from there. 

When your team see that the leadership are using these tools, it does not take long for everyone to fall into line and use them too. 

Thank you, Daniel, for your question and that you to all of you who have listened. I hope this episode has given you some food for thought about how you can work better within your team. Now it’s up to you to “sell” the benefits to your leaders and see if you can become a leader in the new world of collaboration. 

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

Episode 65 | How to Find Your Focus And Concentration

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about finding focus and concentration.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 65 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 it’s all about getting your life under control when everything goes crazy and the workload mounts up. A situation that can happen to any of us at any time. 

Before I do get into this week’s question though I would like to thank you all for listening and to remind you that if you have a question you would like answering on this show, then all you have to do is to either email me carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 

And for those of you who feel their ‘system’ is not working, then be sure to check out my FREE online course, The Beginners Guide to Building You Own COD system. This course could change your life because the simplicity, and easy maintenance of the COD system, when implemented has the power to dramatically boost your productivity.

Okay on with the 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 Nonica. Nonica asks: Hello Carl, really I'm struggling with lack of focus and concentration. I have many pending writing projects and I have been missing deadlines I feel extremely distracted. I would be very grateful for your advice, suggestions and guidance. 

Hi Nonica, thank you very much for your question. 

Now I know at times it can be very hard to know what to focus on when you have so many things coming at you at once. This can be particularly so when you have an ever-increasing workload and family and personal commitments to attend to. When things become overwhelming in this way, our brain becomes our worst enemy because it starts screaming at you and reminding you all the time about the work you have to get done and does so at the most inconvenient of times. It will remind you-you have to finish off writing an article just as you are drifting off to sleep at the end of the day. It will remind you of the meeting preparation you have to do as you are trying to enjoy a romantic dinner with your partner and it will remind you-you have to call someone at 3AM in the morning—the worst time to call someone.

Now when you feel completely overwhelmed and you don’t know where to start you need to take some timeout and stop. I know, when you feel you a lot to do, the very thought of stopping doing what you need to do seems a stupid idea, but if all you are doing is running around in a state of indecision and inactivity then stopping that for an hour or so is not going to have any impact on your current productivity or ability to get work done because you aren’t actually getting any work done anyway.

Okay, the first thing you need to do is to calm your brain and the best way to do that is to get everything you have on your mind out of your mind and into an external place. That could be a piece of paper or a digital list. Where you write it doesn’t really matter. What matters is you get everything out of your head. Your mind is a terrible place to hold all your commitments and work because your mind doesn’t really know when you need reminding of things and so it reminds you of everything all at once and that’s why you end up feeling overwhelmed. 

Once you have everything written down you need to start organising and prioritising. This is why it is often better to get all this into a digital to-do list. A task list manager such as Todoist (which has a free version) would be a great way to do this because you can drag and move around items in a list. What you do is list out all the things you wrote down into categories and priorities. So for example, if you have six writing projects you would group those together and then prioritise them by when they are due to be completed. If you have a list of errands that need completing you would group those errands together and again prioritise which ones are the most important ones. Keep doing this until you have everything on your list categorised and prioritised. 

If you give yourself two hours to do the brain dump and the organising you should be able to get most things into some kind of logical order in that time. 

Okay, so great you now have a long, organised, list of things to do, How does that help me get things done? I hear you ask.

Good question. Here’s the answer: open up your calendar. Now hopefully, you have all your events already on your calendar. This should include your professional and personal commitments. If you don’t, do it now. You need to see where you have blocks of time. For most people, you will have a mix of meetings (onsite and offsite) as well as your personal commitments such as spending time with your family and friends, dental and medical appointments etc. 

Now the reason you use your calendar is that your calendar is a list of the 24 hours you have each day. It is a visual representation of the time you have available each day and it never lies… Well unless you put stuff on there you never do. And you should not be doing that with your calendar. 

Before we go any further you need to implement a golden rule. That is: “what goes on your calendar gets done.” No excuses! The only reason an event on your calendar does not get done is either because the appointment was cancelled or for an absolute emergency. Your calendar, from now on, is your one productivity tool that will never ever lie. This has to be the one commitment you make to yourself that you stick to whatever happens. 

Okay, so you have your calendar open and your professional and personal commitments are on there. What do you do next? 

Right, now look at tomorrow. Where are the blank time slots? You may have a time slot between 8am and 10am where you have nothing on. Block that off right now. Choose one of the categories you have on your list of things to do and write that in that block. So in your case, Nonica, you could write in that block “Writing Time”. So now you have made a commitment to yourself to spend two hours writing tomorrow between 8AM and 10AM. And it is a commitment. Now it is on your calendar and remember, “what’s on your calendar gets done” so you are committed. 

Now, it’s a good idea to bring in the principles of the Golden 10 here—That is spending ten minutes at the end of the day to plan the next day—What you do here is look at your calendar and see you have a writing commitment between 8AM and 10AM tomorrow morning. Make a decision the night before in your ten-minute planning session on what you will write in that two hours. You do not want to be deciding that at 8AM tomorrow morning. You need to make that decision well before you sit down to write so you do not start wasting time procrastinating. 

Now let’s say you have a regularly recurring event that you know you must do or you feel obligated to do. This could be something like having to take care of elderly parents or grandparents. This again is a commitment and something you should get on your calendar. To me, family is far more important than work and so comes in at number 1 on my priorities list. As I fill out my calendar with time slots for the work I have to do, my family commitments would be put on there first. If a family member is in a hospital for example, then I would be scheduling visiting times every day. If the hospital visiting times are in the early evenings, then block that time off. Doing this means you get to see the available times you have for getting your work done. 

Now, if you do have an unusually high amount of work to do, you may want to schedule more time in the evenings for additional work time. This often happens to me when I am developing a course or editing a book. I would schedule additional work time between 9pm and 11pm for doing that work. This is only temporary and so I do not worry too much about my work-life balance in those times. The work has to be done, and once it has been done I can relax. 

Now over the next two to three weeks, you schedule your time slots to take care of all the work that is on your list. How you and what your schedule, of course, will be up to you and the deadlines you have coming up. You have to decide what gets done first. 

Okay, so that takes care of the list you created when you did your mind dump. But there is another issue here. Life does not stop just because you have emptied your head of all the things you have to do. Life has a bad habit of creating more work for us every day so you are going to be picking up more work after you have completed your list. In this case, depending on how much work you have to do right now, you may need to put a temporary stop to new work coming in. In these situations, you need to talk to your work generators (as I like to call them) and ask then to freeze new work for a couple weeks so you can catch up. In my experience, people are very reasonable and will accommodate your request. It’s only a temporary freeze and it will allow you to catch up and get everything in perspective. 

If your work generators are not willing to freeze new work, you are going to have to allow sufficient time on your calendar for the new work coming in. This means keeping an hour or so each day free for such situations. The good news here is if you do not need that time for new work you can allocate other work to that time. 

The final piece to this is to make sure you are not writing out your tasks so they feel overwhelming. If you write your task out as “write end of year report” and you know the end of year report is a 10,000 word report, you are not going to be motivated to do anything and you will feel overwhelmed. Instead, write “write 500 or 1,000 words of the end of year report” or you could write, as I do, “continue writing end of year report” That is a much more manageable chunk and you are much more likely to be motivated to get it done. By using the words “continue writing” I write as much as I can and I don’t get that mental panic of thinking I have to write the full 10,000 words. 

Other things you should be doing during your blocked out time is to switch off your distractions. That means your phone, your email and the people around you. Use headphones if you can and listen to great music. The Anjunabeats Worldwide and Above And Beyond’s Group Therapy podcasts are great to work to, and if you prefer something a little slower try the Anjunadeep podcast. I will put links to these fantastic podcasts in the show notes. 

And that’s really all you can do, Nonica. You need to first get everything on your mind off your mind and into an external place—paper or digital—then you need to categorise what those things are. Once you have that done use your calendar to block the time off you need to get them done. The only way the work will get done is if you do the work and to do the work you need to make time to do it. You calendar can be your best friend there. 

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

Thank you to you also for listening. I do this for you guys and I want to help as many of you as I can to become better organised and more productive. So if you know anyone that could benefit from subscribing to this podcast please share it with them. 

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

The Working With Podcast | Episode 46 | How To Keep Things Simple

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about keeping your system simple.

You can also listen on:

Podbean | iTunes | Stitcher


Hello and welcome to episode 46 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 it’s all about simplicity and simplifying overwhelming and complex productivity systems. This is something that can happen and when it does it becomes a huge drain on your whole productivity. 

Before we get into this week’s question, I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you whole got involved in last week’s coupon sale. It was a shame to let all those coupons go without finding a good home. It’s so nice to know that so many of you are determined to become better organised and more productive. So a big thank you and always remember I will be here to give you support whenever you need it. 

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

This week’s question comes from Darius. Darius asks: I know you write and talk a lot about keeping your system simple, so could you give us some tips on how to do so? 

Thank you Darius for your question. Okay, let's start at the beginning. If you are new and are developing your own productivity system remember all you need is COD—that’s Collect, Organise and Do—as the base for your system. That means whatever system you develop it needs to be developed around quick and easy collection, simple organisation and a simple view of what you need to do. Think of that as your base. From there you can start building. 

So what do I mean “quick and easy collection”? What I mean is that whenever you have an idea, make a commitment or have an event, you need to be able to collect it into a place you trust quickly and easily. Today, that would probably be on your phone. Our phone is the one device we are likely to be carrying with us everywhere we go so it makes sense for this to be your primary collection tool. Now whether you choose a separate app for your to-dos, notes and appointments or an all in one collection app is up to you. I personally use an app called Drafts that allows me to collect anything in one place and then I can distribute those items to my to-do list, notes app or calendar when I have time to distribute them. What this does is simplify my collection process to just one app. And Drafts is simple—open the app and start typing. I’ve found nothing comes close to the speed and ease for collecting that Drafts gives me. 

Collecting could also be a simple pocket notebook you carry with you. Just write down everything you want to collect and organise it later. That’s actually the way I started building my productivity system years ago. Everything was collected into a little notebook and when I got back to my desk I used to tear off the notes I had collected and put them in my physical in-tray. It worked extremely well. But now with cloud-based computing and apps that sync between all my devices, I find collecting on my phone to be the easiest and most efficient way to collect. 

Okay, so once you have everything collected, how do you organise all that stuff. That’s where you need to be focused on simplicity. I’ve seen people with hundreds of clients create project folders for each client. Now that can work, but if most of those clients need little to no work doing on them, then they are just cluttering up your projects list. That kind of situation would probably mean you need to use a dedicated CRM system. A to-do list manager is not going to do that job very well. A proper CRM system would manage your clients much better and allow you to monitor marketing and call activities better. Now there are many ways you can organise your projects, notes and events. But what you need to do is find a way that works for you. What I mean by that is when you need to find a note you know exactly where to look, or what search term to use. A simple structure I use is to have an active projects list—which usually has no more than six to ten projects—and an areas of focus list that I organise by my different roles. That could be “Family”, Teacher”, “Online course creator”, “Social Media Manager” etc. 

What I find is that pretty much all the tasks I collect each day can be filed into one of those projects or areas of focus. 

For my notes, I use a simple folder or notebook structure between work and personal and tag things pretty much in the same way an old-fashioned filing cabinet worked. That is alphabetically. Be careful with this. When you do set up your notes filing system you need to be thinking about how you will retrieve notes when you need them. I find a good way to think about this is watch how you naturally go to find something. For example, if I want to find a quote I saved from Jim Rohn, all I need to do is type “Jim Rohn Quotes” into my notes app and all the quotes I have collected from Jim Rohn will come up in the search. (I have a lot of quotes from Jim Rohn) Or I could be thinking about buying a new sweater and I remember seeing a sweater Daniel Craig wore in Spectre. All I need to do is type in my notes app search field “Spectre sweaters” and I will find the sweaters I am looking for and the company that made it. (N Peal of London for those of you interested—great company) 

Now, I know that means I have to do a little extra work when I process my notes, but that little extra effort saves me time in the long run because I know how my brain works and I understand how I search for things. That’s why it is important to know how YOU search for things and not try and copy someone else’s way of searching. They will inevitably think differently from you.

Now the doing part needs to be as simple as possible. If you date everything you are going to end up with huge lists of uncompleted tasks each day. No matter how much you would like to get something done you are just not going to have the time to do twenty or thirty tasks. if everything is dated you are going to do the easy stuff first. It’s just human nature. It takes a lot of discipline to force yourself to do the unpleasant tasks first. A better way is to utilise the Golden Ten daily planning method—spend ten minutes at the end of the day and with your calendar open schedule no more than ten tasks to do the next day. Two of which should be what I call “Objective tasks” two tasks that if you do not do anything else that day, those two tasks will get done. These two tasks should be important, project or goal tasks, NOT regular routine tasks. You want to be moving forward each day on either your projects or your goals. Now I will be honest here, I have two daily lists. The first is my ten tasks, the second is my daily routine tasks. Things like updating my subscriber lists, take the garbage out etc. I don’t need to really think too much about these types of tasks, but I like to have a daily reminder of what routines I should be getting done that day—just simple maintenance tasks if you like. That list is a list I go to at the end of the day to make sure my routines for the day have been done. 

And that’s really about it. All you really need to do is focus on the three parts of your productivity system. The collecting, make that as quick and easy as possible. Make sure how you organise your to-dos, documents and events make it easy to find what you need when you need it and spend the rest of your time doing the work. 

Other tips I would give include not constantly switching apps. That’s going to do nothing for your productivity. Switching means you have to learn a new way of doing things which will only slow you down, and having to export all your to-dos, notes and events to another app is never easy, no matter what the developer claims. Things never transfer over neatly. 

Regularly removing old, no longer needed stuff is another way to keep things simple. Emails particularly have a bad habit of hanging around If you no longer need it delete it. What you want to achieve is a fast, clean easily maintained system. Having old legacy files cluttering up your system is only going to slow things down and you will be ploughing through lists irrelevant, out of date stuff. Another area where time is wasted. 

To keep things simple mean’s you should focus on what it is you want to achieve. Getting caught up in breaking things down into tiny little steps might seem like good advice, but what that does is cause you to lose focus on the outcome. Often you can achieve the outcome you desire by just getting yourself focused on doing the work in a distraction-free environment with the minimal of tools and apps. One of my most productive environments is a coffee shop, two hours, my iPad and Ulysses. The amount of work I get done in this environment is enormous. Simple tools, simple apps. And that’s really the secret of keeping things simple. 

One final piece of advice though. Stop trying to hack apps to do things they were not designed to do. A good notes app is not a good to-do list manager and a good to-do list manager is not a good notes app. Sure, you might like the idea of having everything in one place, but whenever you get an app that tries to be all things, you end up with compromises that ultimately means things will break. Just don’t go there. 

I hope that answers your question, Darius. Thank you for sending it in. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering, just get in touch via email (carl@carlpullein.con) or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the details are in the show notes. 

Thank you all for listening and it just remains for me now to wish you all very very productive week.