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