The Working With… Podcast
How To Get Good At Capturing Digitally

How To Get Good At Capturing Digitally

May 16, 2022

Podcast 230

This week, we’re looking at how to collect more efficiently and, more importantly, more consistently

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Episode 230 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 230 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein, and I am your host for this show.

When we first start out building a productivity system for ourselves, one of the first things we need to master is collecting. This is how we get ‘stuff’ into our system that gets processed and organised and ultimately done. If you’re not collecting stuff to put into your system, then you don’t have a system at all. 

Collecting needs to be fast, with as few steps as possible, and we need to learn to be consistent with it. 

It’s not the sexy part of building a system; this is the messy bit in the middle that Robin Sharma often talks about. It’s fine-tuning, stepping back and rethinking and more often than not, we have to repeat this process of testing and fine-tuning before we finally have something that works intuitively and consistently. 

And it’s this bit I shall be explaining in this episode. So, without further ado, let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Baz. Bad asks; Hi Carl, I’ve recently undertaken a project to update my twenty-year-old system to a more modern-day one. Over the last twenty years or so, I’ve always written things down on a notepad I kept on my desk, but now I want to make this digital. Do you have any tips for making this an easy transition? 

Hi Baz, thank you for your question.

One of the first things you are going to need to get used to is typing out your tasks, ideas and anything else you want to collect instead of writing things down, and this can be more difficult than you might imagine. You see, it feels very natural when you are in a meeting or with someone else to pull out a pen and notepad and write something down. People understand you are writing something important down. 

Unfortunately, because of the bad press our mobile phones, tablets and laptops have today, typing something into one of these devices makes us feel self-conscious. We fear the other person or people think we’re responding to email, checking our Facebook feed or searching for big tractors. (People in the UK will understand that one) 

The thing is we need to get over that self-consciousness as quickly as possible. I know when I first went digital I needed to explain to people what I was doing with a “hang on while I write that down”. Typing into your phone and writing on a piece of paper is the same thing in this instance. I know it takes some getting used to, but it’s part of the process of going completely digital. 

To lessen this self-consciousness, we need to make digital collecting as fast as we can. How do you do that? 

This is where the digital tools we use have a big impact. And this starts with the applications we choose. A mistake people make is to look through YouTube and watch what popular YouTubers are using. Thomas Frank uses Notion, Steve Dotto is a big Evernote user and Matt D’Avella uses Apple Notes. 

Now the thing to remember, these people are not you. They are content creators who likely rarely have meetings with customers and clients. Their productivity needs will be very different from you. Thomas Frank, Steve Dotto and Matt D’Avella will make extensive use of notes apps to plan out videos and collect future topic ideas. If you are in sales, for example, your digital notes needs will be very different. 

Perhaps you need to keep details of when you last spoke to a customer, have a list of potential customers and information on the products you sell. Information that is very different to a YouTube content creator. 

So, before you go out and find a tool based on the recommendations of others, stop and ask yourself what your needs are. 

The next thing to consider is where you will do most of your collecting. Prior to the pandemic, most of my collecting was done on my phone as I was travelling to see students and clients. Today that has changed. The vast majority of what I collect is collected on my laptop. It’s here where you need to do some thinking. 

Collecting needs to be fast and intuitive. For me, I have a keyboard shortcut to collect a task. It does not matter where I am on my computer: whether I am in full screen or not, whenever I activate the keyboard shortcut, I get an input box in the middle of my screen where I can type whatever task I need to be reminded of. Likewise, if I have an idea, I can initiate a keyboard shortcut which will bring up a quick entry box for getting the idea directly into Evernote. Apple Notes has become even easier if you are on an iPad or laptop, all you need do is swipe up from the bottom right of your screen, and you get a new note ready to collect the idea. 

So, whatever digital tools you decide to use, make sure that collecting stuff into those tools is fast and easy. See if you can create a keyboard shortcut on your computer, and whatever mobile device you are using, make sure at the very least the apps you use for collecting are in your dock or home screen. You don’t want to be swiping from left to right trying to find your notes app when you have the next big idea, or you need to simply write down a person’s email address. 

The next step is to turn collecting into a habit. Now, the way to do this is to consciously collect everything that comes to your mind. Anything and everything needs to be collected. A lot of this stuff you collect will be deleted when you process, but you don’t need to worry about that at this stage. Hitting the delete key is far better than missing something important. 

What you are doing here is developing a habit. You can do your filtering when you process. Just get into the habit of using the keyboard shortcuts or pulling out your phone to collect. It’s this you need to turn into a habit and learn the necessary muscle memory. 

Now a quick tip here is if you do find yourself not collecting using your tool of choice, make a point to stop and do so when you remember what you should be doing. This helps to interrupt a pattern in your brain, so next time you will be more aware. It’s developing these habits that can be difficult. We’ve got used to collecting (or not as the case may be), and we have to change that habit. That’s difficult. To do that, you have to break the old habit—interrupt it—and replace it with the new habit. That’s why even if you do write down the task or idea, make sure you consciously take what you wrote down and add it to your digital system. 

Once you have set up your system. You’ve got the apps you’ve chosen on your phone—most likely to be your primary collection tool—and you’ve set up your keyboard shortcuts, which you now want to be fine-tuning. To do that you should frequently ask yourself “how can I do this better?”. It’s an incredibly powerful question, but it also helps to make sure your system is at its most effective and efficient. 

One thing I’ve learned is the fewer barriers there are to collecting something, I am more likely to collect it. This is why I’m always checking to see what has been updated in my collecting apps when they update their apps. Have they found a faster way to collect? 

I do remember when Apple released their Shortcut apps; I spent many an evening experimenting to see if I could activate my collecting using Siri. I never really found anything satisfactory or better than what I currently use, but I have found that the fastest way to get something into my system now is through the use of my Apple Watch. That’s always on my wrist, and so, even if I am out running and think of something, I can still add it to my system quickly using just my voice. 

What you will find is as technology improves. There will be better and faster ways to get things into your system. If you have Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s HomePod, that gives you additional ways to collect stuff. 

I recently bought an Amazon Echo and was impressed with how I could interact with Alexa so that my tasks could be added directly to Todoist. This means as I am walking around my office, all I need to do is tell Alexa to add something to my to-do list. It’s fast and surprisingly intuitive to talk to a device. Perhaps this is where the future of collecting will grow. 

The key to collecting is not to overthink it. Choose a digital tool, set it up so that you have quick access to the inbox and make sure you use it consistently. That part can be hard; you will slip up from time to time; that’s part of the process of learning. Make a mistake, recognise it, and try again. As long as you are persistent, you will soon break through and collecting digitally will become second nature. 

Thank you, Brad, for your question and thank you to you too for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 


How to Love What You Do

How to Love What You Do

May 9, 2022

Podcast 229

This week’s question is: what does “Love what you do” really mean?

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Episode 229 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 229 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

I received an interesting question the other week about how to love the work that you do. Now, this was sparked from an article I wrote where I pointed out if you really hate the work that you are doing and dread Mondays, then perhaps you need to reconsider your career options. 

For those of us past the age of 45, you will have likely come to the conclusion that life is not just short, but brutally short. By 45 you’re about halfway through your life and all those goals, ambitions and experiences you said you would do one day suddenly seem to fade into long lost opportunities. 

And life being so short, why would you want to subject yourself to 35 years of misery spending the majority of your prime years doing something that does not bring you any pleasure or satisfaction. it just does not make any sense. 

So that brings us back to the question, how do you love what you do? That is what I will try and answer today and hopefully give you some ideas about how to change a career that no longer brings you joy or any satisfaction. 

So, let me now hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Phil. Phil asks, recently I read an article on your blog that said that if you hate what you do you should change your career. I know that sounds like the obvious answer, but what if you can’t change your job for whatever reason, how can you change the way you think about your job? 

Hi Phil, thank you for your question (and for reading my blog) 

Now before we get into the heart of this question, I should point out the two versions of this quote or expression: “love what you do” and “do what you love”.

One is possible for all of us, the other is often unrealistic. The unrealistic one is “do what you love”. Now that does not mean it is impossible. I was recently sat next to a pilot on my flight back to Korea and he was telling me he chose to become a pilot because since he was a little boy, he’d been fascinated with all things to do with flying. He was well into his fifties and still loved flying. 

So, while doing what you love is often unrealistic, it is certainly not impossible. But if what you love doing is sitting on the sofa watching movies every night while eating ice cream, it’s likely you will struggle to find a career that will support you. (Although perhaps becoming a movie critic for a news media company might be a good path to follow.)

These days, however, doing what you love does have more doors that can be opened. For instance, when I was teaching English, I did have a number of students whose dream job was to become a travel writer. With sites like Medium and SubStack, there are now opportunities to turn your passion for a particular activity into a side project, that over time could become your full-time work. And of course, YouTube has opened up possibilities for people to record and publish their take on any number of topics. 

But what about the second one. “Love what you do”?

Now this one is an interesting one. I love writing, I also love recording and producing videos. But, I do not like the admin that comes from running my own business. If I were to spend all my working time writing and recording, it would be ‘perfect’. Sadly, life gets in the way. We still have to do admin. I still need to do my expenses and my taxes. I hate doing that kind of work. But it has to be done. 

Now a question that has helped me in the past with doing the things I do not like doing is “what would happen if I stopped doing the work I did not enjoy?” Well, if I don’t do my expenses and my taxes, it would not be long before the tax authorities would be knocking at my door. There is also the other side to this, in that neglecting an important part of life (admin) would leave me feeling unfulfilled. Part of my personal identity is that I am organised and know what’s going on in my life. So, not doing an essential part of my work would leave me feeling guilty and unhappy with myself. 

So, I do my expenses, taxes and admin. 

However, there is something you can do here. Turn doing the work you don’t like into a competition with yourself. For instance, if you hate clearing your email’s inbox, time yourself. See how fast you can process 100 emails. (To help you here, I recently cleared 120 emails from my inbox while sitting at Paris’s Charles De Gaulle airport in 33 minutes. (Beat that!) I was a little disappointed, though, I wanted to do it in less than 30 mins. 

Now it’s rare I would have 100+ emails in my inbox, I average around 80 emails in a morning when I start the day. But next time I get 100+, I will beat that 30 minutes. 

What’s happening here is you are taking the emphasis off the boring part of the process—deciding what an email is and what, if anything, you need to do with it—to something completely different—how fast can you clear your inbox?

Now the work I don’t like doing, I’ve turned it into a project to find the most efficient way to complete my expenses. I’ve created my own spreadsheet and I look for ways to automate it as much as I possibly can. My expenses are not the typical lunch or dinner receipts. Most of my expenses are monthly subscriptions for services I use such as iCloud, website hosting and such like. these are recurring, so I’ve managed to set up a system where I can duplicate these payments automatically in my spreadsheet and then the spreadsheet will do the currency conversion automatically. I loved coming up with that idea. 

What about a whole job you don’t like doing. Well, first of all, do you hate all aspects of your work? If so, you really do need to stop and ask yourself what you would like to do. If you hate everything about the work you do, then really the best option is to leave that career altogether and find a different one. 

But, in my experience, hating everything about your work is very rare. I remember my first job was cleaning the changing rooms in a health club. Not the most pleasant of jobs, but I did find it fascinating seeing the members working out and being able to judge what was needed if you were to be fit and healthy all your life. 

I remember one member, who must have been in his seventies, with a body of a Greek god. Not an ounce of visible fat and not overly muscular. I think people would describe him as looking very athletic. I watched his workout routines every day. I noticed he didn’t lift particularly heavy weights at all. His routine was to start on the running machine for twenty minutes or so, then he spent twenty minutes lifting free weights (not machines) followed by around ten minutes stretching and finally he would do lengths in the pool for around twenty minutes. 

I remember asking him one day how he stayed in such good shape and he told me he’s been working out every day in some way or another since he was at school. Almost thirty years later I am still inspired by that gentleman. 

Another job I did in my early working life was as bar staff in a local pub in England. Being on your feet for six to eight hours a day and coming home stinking of cigarettes and alcohol was not pleasant. But the job itself taught me how to communicate with people. I am not by nature a people person. But working in the bar, taught me to communicate and I met some incredibly interesting people. 

Sure, there were days when I got soaked in beer when changing a barrel, I also cut my fingers many times when cutting lemons and many broken glasses. But it was an experience I will never forget and I know how to pull the perfect pint of bitter and Guinness. What a skill to learn. 

There are always parts of a job you will not like. You need to identify these areas and ask yourself how you could learn to make them less unpleasant. When I worked in a law firm, I hated dealing with angry clients. But I realised that learning to handle upset customers (clients) was always going to be a key skill in life. So, I offered to help my colleagues if they ever had an upset client. I made it an objective to master the art of handling upset clients. Not sure if I ever did master it, but I no longer fear it. 

But if you really are at a loss with your career choice and feel it impossible to change direction now. Stop. There’s absolutely no reason why you cannot go back to school and learn a new vocation. There are so many opportunities now to take online courses reasonably cheaply. You can even do a Masters degree online today. 

The first step, though, is to give yourself some time to think about what you would like to do. Perhaps do some reading and research. Discover where your passions are now. That’s your starting point. Then do the research. From there, you will soon find what the next step will be. 

There you go, Phil. I hope that has gone some way to explaining what you can do to turn around an unhappy career choice. You have some amazing opportunities today, the only thing you need to do is to take the first step and decide what you want to do. 

Thank you for your question, and thank you to you too for listing. 

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


How To Manage Email (and Other Messages) With Francis Wade
Once You’ve got Yourself Organised, How Do You Stay Organised?

Once You’ve got Yourself Organised, How Do You Stay Organised?

April 25, 2022

This week, we’re focusing on doing the work instead of organising the work. 


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Episode 227 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 227 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Most productivity advice, tips and tricks focus on how to organise your work. And while this is important to some degree, it is the least important part of the three areas—collecting, organising and doing. 

You see, you can have the best organisation structure and still be unproductive. That’s because in order to keep everything organised you spend far too much time organising and adjusting. You might feel good while you are collecting all your files and notes and moving them into an organisational structure, but you won’t be getting anything done. 

Obsessively organising your stuff is another form of procrastination because it means you are not getting your work done.

And that’s what this week’s episode is all about. 

So, without further ado, let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Jade. Jade asks: Hi Carl, I’ve recently finished your From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days course, and now I feel organised (I now know where everything is), but I don’t feel productive. How do you keep everything organised and get your work done? 

Hi Jade, thank you for your question.

Congratulations on completing the Disorganised To Productivity Mastery in 3 Days course. I know with that course you now have everything you need to build a great system.

And you are now ready to move to the automation part of productivity. You see, when we start doing something new—such as having all our files, documents, notes and everything else organised and in a place where we can find them, it will mean that you will need to consciously think before you do anything. 

You will need to think about where you will put something and that takes time. 

However, this is just a part of the learning process. You’re changing old habits for new ones. The key here is to consistently do some organising each day. This will likely involve processing the files and documents on your desktop into their rightful place. It will also entail clearing your inboxes and making sure everything is in its rightful place. 

When you first start doing this, it will take quite a lot of time. However, if you are consistent with this, you will get faster. 

Now a lesson I learned years ago when I was in sales. During my induction training with one company, they sent me out with one of their salespeople for a day. That day coincided with the expense reporting day and I vividly remember the salesperson training me pulling up in a car park after lunch and suggested I go for a walk for a couple of hours. 

She then opened the glove box and out poured what seemed to be hundreds of receipts. She had to transfer those receipts from that glove box onto an expense reporting form. 

That taught me a valuable lesson. Don’t pile work up. Do a little every day and instead of it taking you two to three hours up close to a deadline, it will take you less than ten minutes to add that day’s receipts to the expense report. 

To give you another example, many years ago, when I first began using a digital task manager, it could take as much as forty minutes to clear its inbox each day. When you tagged on all the notes I had written, I was spending more than an hour just organising my stuff. 

However, I stuck to it. Over time, my clearing time dropped. I learned what to collect, what could be added directly to a project note during meetings and what didn’t need looking at every day. Now, I can clear ten to fifteen tasks in my inbox in around five minutes. 

When it comes to clearing my notes’ inbox, I generally do this once a week. Notes are less urgent, so do not need processing as frequently as tasks do. And if I did collect a note that related to an active project, I could easily add that to the project notebook when I next work on the project.

And that’s really what it’s about. Find effective and efficient ways to manage the work that is coming in. Over time, you will also learn what to say “no” to, which will reduce the number of inputs coming into your system. 

The biggest benefit to getting everything organised is the time saved trying to find stuff. However, your new organisation system is going to take time to become second nature. It’s only then that you will feel the “system” itself is in the background so you can now focus your attention on what’s in front of you. 

However, with all that said, something you could ask yourself now is where do you feel your system is slow? Where do you find you spend most of your time when you are organising? Here we will all be different. For some, how they manage and organise their email is a bump in the road. Getting quick at clearing your inbox and making decisions such as what is it? And what do I need to do with it? Takes a little time to become automatic. 

Again, with consistency, you soon learn the patterns and can make decisions about whether you need to take action on an email or not. Likewise with those bigger requests from bosses or clients. The requests that will need an afternoon of deep focus. What do you do with those? 

When we first begin, we will hesitate and likely think too much about these kinds of requests. As you apply your system, though, they become much easier to make and, more importantly, you become faster at making those decisions. 

Now there is one area I haven’t spoken about and that is learning how to search your devices and your apps. Search has come a long way over the last five years or so. Long gone are the days when a downloaded file would disappear somewhere on your hard drive and would take hours to locate. Now, as long as you know roughly the date you downloaded it, a title or keyword: within a second or two, you’ve found the file. This is again moving you towards automating your system. 

It’s always difficult to change old habits, and one of the worst habits to have is to go through all your file folders looking for files and documents. A far quicker way is to trust your computer. It knows where everything is. On a Mac, all you need do is hit the COMMAND key and Space bar, and you get a little search box. Type in what you are looking for, and boom! You have what you are looking for. 

I’m not entirely sure how this works on Windows, but I know Windows does something very similar. Learning how to do this will dramatically speed up your work. 

Another part of feeling productive is in what you are completing each day. If the majority of what you are completing are low-value tasks, you are not going to feel very productive at the end of the day. This is where daily planning comes in. When you do the daily planning, make sure that you have one or two meaningful tasks on there that will move a project or goal forward. 

You do not want to be overloading your task manager with high-value meaningful tasks—that’s likely to leave you feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, and you will not be able to do everything in one day. But, choose a project that needs working on and create a task that says something like “work on Project X”. That gives you a lot of wriggle room. Often you will find all you have done is planned out the next steps. 

For instance, if I find a project has stalled for whatever reason, just going into the project note and reviewing my notes, I will soon see what needs to be done next, and I can add that ‘next action’, if you like, to my task manager. It’s a quick, satisfying way to get projects moving forward. 

But what are meaningful tasks, and where do they come from? Generally, these tasks will one from one of three places. Your goals, your Areas of Focus or projects. As long as you have a good mix of tasks that comes from these three places, you will find that you get to the end of the day and feel fulfilled and satisfied with the day. 

If you fill your days with low-value admin type tasks, you are going to feel unfulfilled and unhappy with what you have done that day. 

Now, I’m not saying you fill your days with high-value project or goal tasks, that would leave you with a lot of admin being neglected, and that will always come back and bite you. It’s about the mix. Let me give you an example.

If you made sure you had two to three hours each day for high-value important project work, an hour for dealing with your communications and perhaps thirty minutes for admin, you would soon find yourself being very productive at work. 

If you then added forty-five minutes for daily exercise (a good walk is enough), some time for your family and friends and a little time for your own personal development, you would still have time for a good night’s sleep. 

You don’t need to fill every hour of every day with activities. You just need to identify what’s important to you and make sure you have sufficient time each day for those activities. 

I hope that has helped, Jade. Thank you for your question. And thank you to you too for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.


How To Make Your Productivity System Work

How To Make Your Productivity System Work

April 18, 2022

This week’s question is on the subject of optimisation and process. Two parts of the productivity mix that rarely get talked about.


You can subscribe to this podcast on:

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Episode 226 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 226 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

There’s a lot of information on creating a system or method for better managing your time and being more productive, but how do you improve those systems and methods once you have them in place? 

More importantly, how do you repair broken systems when they fail? (And they always fail in the early days) Because there’s less information about these situations, a lot of people quit trying or wander off looking for another new system. 

That’s the wrong way of looking at it. As long as the system you adopt covers the three basics: collecting, organising and doing, then the system can be made to work for you. Your system is a little like when you buy a new mobile phone. 

When you first get the phone, there are a number of preinstalled apps. If you tried to live your life with these limited apps you wouldn’t get the most out your mobile phone. You need to customise the phone for the kind of lifestyle you have. It’s no good having the English Premier League app installed when your sporting love is rugby and cricket. So we add and remove apps according to taste and that’s the same with your productivity system. You will at some point need to customise it to maximise the effectiveness of your system. 

That’s what I’ll be talking about in this episode. 

And so, without further ado, let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Andrew. Andrew asks, Hi Carl, I’ve tried a lot of time management programmes and methods over the years, but I can never find one that works for me. There’s always something missing and a lot of features I’m never likely to use. I am curious how you have made things work for you. 

Hi Andrew, thank you for your question.

The reality is no system, programme, or method will ever work perfectly straight out of the box. You see the difficulty is all these methods are developed for humans and humans are not machines. We all think differently, prioritise different things and work different jobs. 

And even in our own lives, our priorities will change. In our teenage years is all about getting an education. In our twenties, it’s about learning to handle the responsibilities of being an adult and intimate relationships. And as we get older, there’s likely parenthood, career and eventually retirement to manage. 

The reality is, a system you developed to manage your education is not going to be as effective when you want it to manage your career and family life. It will have to change and evolve as you change and evolve. 

Now the mistake I see most people making is thinking that as their priorities change they need to change their whole system and that’s not true. Rather than changing a whole system what really needs to happen is the existing system you use needs to be adjusted. 

So what does that mean?

Well, let’s look at the three parts to a good productivity and time management system. There’s a task manager, a calendar and a notes app. Now the only thing that’s changed here over the last ten to twenty years is we’ve gone from a paper-based system (diaries and notebooks) to a largely digital system. 

The biggest change there was the separation of our task list and notes. Twenty years ago, we wrote our to-dos in our notebooks (or on PostIts!). Now, for most people, they are two different apps. 

But, the basics still apply. To ensure we are working on the things that matter we need to be clear about what needs to be done. Whether those tasks are written out on paper or in a digital system doesn’t matter. 

The same applies for writing out our goals and plans. Whether you write these out on paper or digitally doesn’t change things. You still write them out (externalise them) and review them (hopefully).

This means if you are struggling with “systems” it is not likely to be the system itself, it’s more likely something is not working within the three areas (collecting, organising and doing) 

With collecting, the emphasis is on writing down all your commitments and ideas and not trusting your brain to remember them. That’s simple enough. But, the question here is: are you collecting all your commitments and ideas? Do you sometimes skip this part? 

Problems here are usually in three areas. 

The first is there’s no habit to collect, so we ‘forget’ to write things down or we believe we will remember—which often we don’t. Plus, if you don’t collect everything you don’t get a sense of how much you have to do, so you end up with a false picture of what commitments you have. 

The second is there’s a lack of trust in the tools you are using. If you don’t trust that your task manager or notes app will safely store what you put in there, you will continue to try and remember everything in your head. 

Trusting your tools is a big step for many people, and it becomes a lot harder for those who are always switching their tools. Whenever you start using a new tool (or app), there will always be an element of doubt that what you collected went where it was meant to go. It takes time to build that trust. 

And thirdly, the tools you are using make it very difficult to add new tasks or ideas. If there are too many ‘clicks’ or taps to get something new into your task manager or notes app, you will not consistently add stuff. 

It’s important when choosing tools, you test out how easy it will be to get stuff into the app. If there are too many clicks or taps, then stay well away from the app. 

What I’ve noticed here is a lot of people are attracted to the latest, shiniest tool, so they are looking at the aesthetics of an app or what popular YouTubers are telling them. Just remember, a lot of these YouTubers are paid to review these apps and they are not necessarily reviewing things objectively. 

Now when it comes to organising, I find a lot of people’s organisation system is either their downloads folder or their inbox. There’s no structure and so it’s almost impossible to find anything. 

These days you don’t need a complex hierarchical organisation system. The computers we use have fantastic search capabilities, but you do still need some form of basic organisational structure or you will become overwhelmed when you go searching for something you cannot remember the name of. 

How you organise your stuff really depends on you. No one person will be the same here. My notes, for instance, are structured around GAPRA—Goals, Areas of Focus, Projects, Resources and an archive. This gives me a place for all the things I collect. 

When I shared this organisational structure on YouTube, I got so many questions about where I think something some be stored. I couldn’t answer a lot of those questions because I didn’t have the kind of notes I was being asked about. In this area, we will all have different types of collected notes. This is where you have to trust yourself and think about how you would naturally look for something. 

My file folder structure, for instance, is divided into two parts Personal and Professional. That’s because I use a single computer for both my work and my personal life. I have a lot of clients who have a computer for work and a computer for their personal lives. In this situation, my structure wouldn’t work. 

For my professional work, I run my own company. This means I need folders for tax, company regulations, expenses, employees and admin. If you are an employee, things like HR, admin and taxation are likely things you don’t need. 

Doctors and lawyers are required to do continuous professional education which means they need a way to keep all of these educational materials somewhere. Project managers may be managing several projects all at once and so need a way to manage these materials. 

Hopefully, you get the point. No one person is going to have the same file and note organisational structure. It’s very important to spend some time developing your own so you can find what you need when you need it. 

When it comes to how you manage your task manager, here, all you need to see is what needs doing now. Something that needs doing in six months’ time is not relevant today. 

I find the problem with the way people manage their task managers is overthinking things. The only thing that’s important today are the things you need to do today. Tomorrow’s tasks are not relevant today.

This means, that the most crucial part of a day is when you ask yourself “what needs to be done today?” Now, ideally, you will do this the night before, not the morning of. You want to be very clear when you start the day what needs to be done. If you leave the daily planning to the morning of the day, you waste so much valuable focus time trying to decide what to do. 

When you do the daily planning the night before, you can step back and look at the big picture and anticipate what’s coming at you. You will also find you are more engaged with your family and friends because the next day is planned and you are not worrying about things you may have missed. 

I don’t buy into the excuse that there’s no time to do the daily planning the night before. It’s a ten to twenty minute daily commitment. If you cannot find ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day, then you have serious problems. Nobody is genuinely that busy. 

No, if you are not doing a ten to twenty-minute daily planning session, you are just being lazy. Pure and simple. 

How difficult is it to look at your calendar and your task list for tomorrow? Seriously? You don’t have time for that?

And if you don’t want to look at it because you don’t want to be thinking of work when you are not working, you need to question your career choice. If you hate your work that much, you cannot bear to look at your calendar and task list for a few minutes before you end the day, you’re in the wrong career. 

And finally, when it comes to doing, how are you managing your time? Are you maximising your “doing” time or are you spending too much time organising? 

Now here it’s about learning when you are at your most focused. Again, we will be different. Some people are more focused first thing in the morning, while others find their focus is better later in the day. 

Now, I understand that a lot of people don’t have a great deal of control over their calendars when at work, but you can still look at ways to make sure you are blocking time out for the more difficult work at a time you are likely to be most focused. Okay, you may have a meeting at 10:30am, but what are you doing at 9:00am? That’s still a good hour and fifteen minutes where you have a block of focused time. If you know before you start the day what the big task is for the day, you can get started on that first thing. 

So, Andrew, rather than looking at different methods, programmes and systems, look at the three foundations of collecting, organising and doing. How are you in each of these three areas? 

Whether you are using David Allens, Getting Things Done, the Franklin Planner or my Time Sector System, if you are not consistently collecting, don’t have a clean, workable organisation system and have no plan for doing your work each day, nothing will work. 

You will be constantly looking at different methods and tools and never finding what you are looking for because you are looking in the wrong place. Look at yourself first. Decide what you want to see each day and how you prefer to get things done. 

Then build on that. 

I hope that has helped, Andrew, and thank you for sending in your question. And, thank you to you too for listening.

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


What’s Important Here?

What’s Important Here?

April 11, 2022

This week, we’re looking at how to identify your most important thing.


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Episode 225 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 225 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein, and I am your host for this show.

I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s a lot of stuff flying around in our lives that demand attention right here. Right now. Messages from WhatsApp, email and social media that need responses. Colleagues, family and friends as well as clients and bosses ask us to ‘help’ them. Homes and cars that need cleaning, bills to pay, accounts to sort out and consolidate and, of course, summer holidays to plan. The list is endless. 

And because this ’stuff’ is non-stop and endless, the truly important things in our lives get pushed aside in favour of what’s urgent that masquerades as important. 

So what can we do about this? Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do that will give us some perspective on things and guide us through the days so that the things that do matter to us, can still take centre stage. 

So, without further ado, let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Frank. Frank asks, Hi Carl, thank you for all the valuable content you publish. You’ve really helped me to get a grip on my life. 

I’ve completed your Areas of Focus Workbook and followed the guidelines. The problem I have is I have so many other things to do for my work and general chores, that I don’t have any time to do the things I want to do for my areas of focus. Is this normal or am I missing something important? 

Hi Frank, thank you for sending in your question. 

Now, it sounds like you are in transition. This is quite common when we have spent a lifetime working for other people’s agendas. It’s hard to take back control because we’ve become conditioned to give up all our time for other people. So, when we take some of that available time away and dedicate it to ourselves, we feel guilty and selfish. The truth is, you are not being selfish at all. 

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy from the airline safety announcements at the beginning of a flight—put your oxygen mask on first before helping small children—and there’s a good reason for this. You are not going to be able to help anyone if you are unconscious. The rule is you make sure you are fine first so you can then help other people. 

This is the same with life. If you are breaking down if your health gives out and you have to spend a prolonged period in hospital. Or if you are stressed out, burnt out and depressed, how helpful are you going to be to those around you? 

If you want to be there for the people that matter in your life, you must take care of your own wellbeing first. 

What does that mean? 

Well, in terms of time it doesn’t actually involve a great deal. Let’s begin with the basics.

In order for you to keep in touch with your wants and needs, you need some time each day to reflect and think. The best time for this is first thing in the morning. Rather than staying in bed until the very last moment, wake yourself up thirty minutes earlier and make those thirty minutes time dedicated to you. 

Make yourself a cup or glass of your favourite morning drink, then find a quiet spot for some time alone. Now, what you do in this time is entirely up to you. For me, I like to spend a little time in my journal and write my thoughts and feelings and review my objectives for the day. The key with these thirty minutes is to spend some time with yourself. Treat it as a time to stop, reflect and think about your needs. 

The act of writing a journal gives you a way to empty your head of things that might be worrying you. Or it might highlight some area of your life you feel is out of balance. 

Now, in your case, Frank, you have already completed your Areas of Focus workbook so you know what each of the eight areas means to you. This gives you a reference point to refer to that will help you to see where things are going well and where things might not be going quite so well. 

By completing the workbook, what you have done is to externalise the things that are important to you. This makes it so much easier to see if everything is going well. 

For instance, health and fitness is quite high up on my list and while my diet and exercise have been very good for a number of years, one area I have neglected is sleep. I haven’t been getting enough and I realised I need to make some changes to my day so I give myself every opportunity to get the required seven and half hours of sleep I need each day. 

This meant reviewing my calendar, adjusting my available coaching times and moving my daily admin time to earlier in the day. 

The funny thing was when I first realised my sleep was not good, I could not see where I would be able to find the time. But writing about it, reflecting and thinking about solutions over a couple of weeks, I soon found a way to accommodate more sleep time into my schedule. 

While it was running around in my mind, it became a huge problem. When I sat down to think about it objectively and look at the resources I had available, I soon found the solution was in my own hands and a few small adjustments to my calendar solved the problem. 

One of the great things about giving yourself some time for yourself is you have an opportunity to look at what is on your mind and to come up with solutions so they are removed from your mind. 

Our brains are incredible things that have evolved to keep us alive over hundreds of thousands of years. And that is where our brains fall down. They are designed to keep us alive and not necessarily evolve and develop us as individuals. This means even the smallest of problems will become amplified until we become stressed out and worse, stuck in a cycle of worry and anxiety. 

By giving yourself thirty (or more) minutes each day for yourself, you can occasionally ask yourself a series of simple questions. Questions like:

  • What work issue/project is most on my mind?
  • What health issues are bothering me?
  • What area of focus feels out of balance? 

Now, most days, there will likely be nothing, but from time to time, there will be something, and this allows you time to externalise the problem (write it down) and to let your intelligent brain consider solutions. 

Now, there are two parts to your brain. There’s the conscious brain—this is where your survival instincts lay. This is the brain responsible for making your stressed, anxious and on edge. Now, this is a good thing because it allows you to stay away from imminent danger. It’s what has kept us human beings alive. It’s the flight to fight part of our brains.

So, running away from your angry boss or upset customer. Or avoiding calling the bank to talk about your unauthorised overdraft is all controlled by your conscious brain. So, is ignoring your expanding waistline, your constant fatigue and the pain in your back that won’t go away. All of these ‘decisions’ are controlled by your conscious brain. 

If you never stop to reflect and think about you, you never engage your more intelligent part of the brain—your subconscious brain. 

Now, I like to think the subconscious brain is where your knowledge and life experience mingle and develop unique solutions to all your problems. The problem is, that you need to give your subconscious brain time to do its stuff. 

Your conscious brain is designed to make quick decisions such as running away from an angry mother bear and avoiding calling that upset client. 

Your subconscious brain is where you will find all the resources you need to solve all your problems. It might not be very helpful if you come face to face with a charging, angry mother bear protecting her cubs, but for most of our everyday problems, it is by far the best part of your brain to engage when you want to bring a sense of calm and control in your life. 

The reality is, that there’s always something on our minds. Something that doesn’t feel right. The question is: what are you going to do about it? 

You can choose to ignore the problem, or you can externalise it and reach into your subconscious mind for the resources that will give you the solution.

Just some of those resources would be:

  • Ask someone who has the knowledge to help you. That could be a doctor, a dietician or a fitness instructor. It could be a friend, a boss or a colleague. 
  • You could read some books or articles or listen to podcasts etc.
  • And of course, you have your own experience. What have you learnt in the past about this particular problem that could help you solve it?

All these resources are in your subconscious mind, but if you do not give yourself some time alone to stop and think, you will never gain access to this amazing resource. 

Over the years, I’ve leant not to be afraid to ask myself what’s bothering me right now and what can I do to get it off my mind? It’s when I go through that process I find that the things that are bothering me are not as bad as I imagine them to be and that a simple fix is often just a small amount of time away. 

On my recent flight back to Korea, I knew I was not going to get any sleep on the overnight bus ride to Dublin Airport, but I reasoned that as I was going to be on an eleven-hour flight from Paris to Seoul, I would have time to get some sleep on the plane. And as I was going to be very tired, I would not have much of a problem getting to sleep. 

What I didn’t bank on was to be sat next to two lovable small boys who once the flight attendant dimmed the lights after our meal, would start fighting and screaming. So much for being able to settle down to a few hours' sleep. 

Initially, my conscious brain reacted. I began to feel anxious and annoyed. But then I stopped. Externalised the problem—I was extremely sleep-deprived and these two boys were making it impossible to sleep. 

Once I pushed the problem to my subconscious brain I calmed down and realised there was still eight hours left of the flight and these boys were not going to be able to carry on fighting and screaming for all those hours. 

And sure enough, after about ninety minutes, they got tired and fell asleep. Cue seat back and sleep. 

Okay, I didn’t get as much sleep as I had hoped for, but by calmly waiting for the boys to get tired, I wasn’t stressed—one way to not be able to sleep—and I got around five hours. Enough to get me through the long flight. 

So there you go Frank. If you’re missing something it’s giving yourself time each day for yourself. To look at the big picture of what’s going on in your life and to externalise (ie write down) any issues or problems you feel you may have. 

Your subconscious brain may not give you the solutions immediately, but if you give it enough time it will. 

Life was never designed to be smooth sailing. It’s a journey, and they will be plenty of rough seas and storms. The ‘secret’, if you can call it that, is to give yourself time to reflect and use your natural resources to calm those seas and break those storms. This is where you will find the important things, and then you can prioritise them and make sure that is where you spend most of your time each day. 

Good luck Frank with your journey and thank you for your question. And thank you to you for listening.

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


Why The Backend Work Matters

Why The Backend Work Matters

March 28, 2022

This week, why must we do the so-called backend work if we want to be more productive.

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Episode 224 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 224 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Last week, I wrote about the importance of the backend work and why you need to take a few days off to isolate yourself and really go through the process. That was inspired by a question I was asked a few weeks ago about what the backend work involves and why it’s important. 

This week, that question is the one I will be answering. 

Now before we get into the question and answer, just a heads up that I’ve just released my latest online course. It’s the first of a new series of mini-courses I will be doing this year which takes a single part of time management and productivity and show you, step by step, how you can implement it into your daily life. 

The first one is on time blocking. Possible the most effective way to get control of your time and to make sure you have time for doing the things you want to do. Ultimately, everything we want to do will involve some time, which means we need to have complete control over our time. That’s what this course will teach you to do. 

Full details of this fantastic course are in the show notes and you can sign up for it right there. 

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 Liz. Liz asks: Hi Carl, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about things like areas of focus and north stars, but I’m not sure what they really mean. All I want is a way to get control of the crazy amount of work I have to do. Is there any reason why I should be worrying about these things?

Hi Liz, thank you for your question.

It sounds like what you are asking is why are things like establishing your goals and the important things in your life a necessity. Now the important things in your life come from areas (or roles) that can often be neglected if all we are focused on is finishing our work or hitting deadlines. It’s not healthy to be stressed out and anxious about the work we have to do and to let other, more important, areas of our life go neglected. 

Now, I admit, with my coaching programme, the first thing I need to do with a new client is to get on top of any backlog or outstanding work that is hanging over a client. But if I am to help a person become better organised and more productive in the long-term so they have time for things like their family, relationships, health and fitness and enjoying life, I need to move to establishing what their long-term goals are and what is important to them. 

You see, when you build your life on a foundation of long-term goals and areas of focus, you feel less stressed, more in touch with yourself and fulfilled. It means that these areas and goals become the priority in your life as a whole and work, and the associated workload, is just dealt with. 

It’s when work becomes the central part of our lives that things will ultimately break down. You’ll burn out and you will feel exhausted.

But, more importantly, when you know what your long-term goals and areas of focus are, you give yourself a “why”. Why are you doing what you are doing? 

Most people go into a job and see it as a way to get some money to pay for groceries, mortgages and going out. That’s a very depressing way to see your work. Your work needs to have some meaning, some other reason why you are doing it. 

It could be part of your long-term goal—to become a leader within your organisation, or it could be you want to help people improve their lives. 

In my case, the reason I turn up every day is because I see it as a vehicle to help people. Helping people gives me a huge buzz. It excites me and leaves me feeling energised and fulfilled. That’s my why and I see my work as part of my life’s purpose area of focus. 

Life would be horrible if I was reacting to my to-do list every day. That way my to-do list would fill up with everyone else’s long-term goals and areas of focus and I would find myself being pulled in all sorts of different directions and those directions would not necessarily leave me feeling happy or fulfilled. 

So the backend work is what puts you in control. 

So, what’s involved in the backend work?

Well, the first place to start is to ask yourself what you would like to be doing in ten or twenty years' time? That can be hard to do if you have never thought about it before, but where would you like to be living? What would you like to be doing every day? 

You may feel you are happy where you are today, and that’s fine except that life doesn’t stand still. We get older, societies and cultures change and if we are not changing with them we are falling behind. 

Do nothing to stay fit and healthy today and in ten or twenty years' time you will be struggling to move, you will be wracked with pain and your health will be causing you to spend a large proportion of your time in hospitals. Is that what you want to be doing in ten or twenty years? 

Do nothing to improve your skills, and very soon, the work you are skilled at today will be obsolete or have been replaced by a computer. In the last twenty years, I’ve seen receptionists, specialised camera operators, secretaries and sales admin disappear. All of which have been replaced by new technology. Receptionists have been replaced by automated telephone systems, sales admin by Salesforce, secretaries by email, Teams and Slack and specialised film camera operators replaced by drones

So the area of focus related to your personal development is important if you want to stay relevant in your industry. 

The best way to build a set of long-term goals that inspire you and to learn what is important to you is to step away from your day to day life for a few days and go somewhere outside of your normal environment. 

Book yourself into a country-house hotel or a mountain retreat for a few days and get away from your day to day life. Use these days to really think about what you want and what is important to you. 

Use this time to expand your areas of focus—what would you like to regularly do with your family and your friends. What skills would you like to learn? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn a musical instrument or to play tennis? 

I have a free areas of focus workbook you can download from my website that will guide you through the process of turning these areas of focus into actionable steps you can take every day or week. 

The problem is most people will never go through this process. It’s as if they are scared to discover what they want or afraid of making a mistake. The thing is you will never make a mistake. You can change your plans at any time. That’s the fantastic thing about being alive. We can change our minds. 

Up until I was thirty-five my whole life plan (if you could call it that) was predicated that I lived and worked in the United Kingdom. It never crossed my mind I would end up living and working in South Korea. Well, that’s where I am and that’s where my future plans are focused on. Life is wonderful in the way it throws up opportunities at almost every junction. 

But, it is important to have goals because they give you a direction and a purpose. Without goals, you’ll end up helping everyone else achieve their goals (and not in a positive way). 

That said, the biggest benefit to know what you want and what is important to you is your whole time management and productivity system will be focused on you and your wants. When you are focused and making progress where it matters, you become a leader and an inspiration to everyone around you. And when that happens, you begin to give back to the people that matter to you. It’s a win-win. You take care of yourself and your needs and at the same time, you contribute to everyone around you. 

You will be more positive, more intentional and less stressed. Everything you do will be more meaningful and you will know exactly why you are doing something, even if you don’t find the particular task pleasant. 

And when all that happens, you will be energised and that is a great way to improve your overall productivity. 

So, there you go, Liz. I hope that has answered your question. Now go and book those three or four days off, get yourself checked into a nice quiet hotel and enjoy the process of designing the life you want to live. 

And… Before I finish, this podcast will be taking a break next week. We will be back in two weeks. 

In the meantime, thank you Liz for the question and thank you to you for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 


How To Plan Out Projects

How To Plan Out Projects

March 21, 2022

How do you plan out your projects? Not just your professional ones, but your personal ones too. That’s what we will be exploring in this week’s episode. 


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Episode 223 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 223 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In the world of productivity and time management, we often talk about tasks and projects and how best to organise these. 

There is also the added complication for those of you who are self-employed and have a greater degree of freedom in what you work on. How do you choose your next project? Sure, sometimes that may be obvious, but often it’s not. 

So this week, we’re going to look at how to impose self-assigned deadlines and stick with them and also how to manage projects within the Time Sector System.

Now, before we start, I just want to give you a heads up that I launched a brand new course over the weekend called The Time Blocking Course. This is the first of a series of mini-courses I will be doing over the year that takes a single concept—such as time blocking—and teach you how you can build these valuable productivity skills into your own life. 

Full details of this fantastic course are in the show notes. 

Okay, time to have you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Tom. Tom asks: Hi Carl, I am a music producer and I have several projects on the go although non have deadlines but I’d like to start using some. Do you have any tips on sicking to self-made deadlines and working on multiple projects whilst using the Time Sector system? All of my projects (music or life) don’t really have deadlines but was wondering if you can help?

Hi Tom, thank you for your question. 

One additional question you asked about was project objectives or outcomes. Now, this is one of the most important starting points. As Robbin Sharma says: Projects (or goals) are exciting at the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end. The biggest problem with most projects is never the start or the end, it’s the middle bit. Yes, it’s messy, but it’s also where the hard work is. And it’s boring, difficult and often hell. 

When you have a clear objective or outcome for the project, it gives you the motivation to keep going when things get very difficult. 

The outcome is the vision of what things will look like when you finish the project and it’s that vision that keeps you going when things become boring, hell and difficult. As Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. And to do that you need motivation. 

And of course, a clear objective will tell you when you have finished the project. 

But… There is another part here. Why are you doing the project? Without your why you will lose motivation. It’s the real motivation behind success at any project or goal. Your why could be anything, the important thing is that your why means something to you. For instance, in music, you could have the ultimate goal of winning a Grammy the reason why you are working on this particular project is it will add to your body of music that will get you noticed. 

Now, what about self-imposed deadlines. These can be very difficult to observe because there’s a lack of accountability. There’s no one chasing you or waiting for you to finish the project. This means you can very easily let deadlines slip which does nothing for your focus. 

I am in a similar position to you, Tom I have a number of projects I want to complete this year, but as there are no clients directly involved in these projects the onus is on me to stick to a planned completion schedule.

Now, the way I have found to make this work is to divide the year up in quarters on a chart or in a spreadsheet and set them as columns. If you include a “to be assigned” column that gives you five columns to create. 

Then, to add all your projects to one of the quarter columns. 

Now, that’s the easy bit. The difficult part is creating the right balance. You will not get very far if you put all your projects in the first two quarters. You will have far too many projects. The trick is to understand how many projects you can realistically do each quarter. 

When I began this year, I knew that a realistic goal for me was to complete two big projects each quarter. This was based on experience and although it would stretch me, it would mean I will have to work a project every week, but as long as I was working on one of those two projects each week, I knew I would complete those two projects in the quarter. It would stretch, but not overwhelm me. 

Now, the next part is to decide which projects you will do in each quarter. 

At the time of recording this, we are approaching the end of the first quarter of 2022. And I have just finished my second big project of the quarter. 

If you are dividing up your year by project, and you feel you can manage three projects per quarter, then you have twelve projects you can work on this year. Now, I would round that number down. So instead of twelve, I would make it ten projects for the year. That’s still a large number of projects, but by rounding down the number of projects you give yourself some breathing room in case one or two projects don’t go according to plan. 

And let’s be honest here, life is never a straight line. Things go wrong, sometimes events beyond our control will interfere with our plans. So, build in some breathing room. 

Okay, so now we know how many projects we can work on this year, the next question is what projects will you work on? You may find that projects for the first two quarters will be easy to assign. It becomes more difficult to assign the third and fourth quarters. This is why we have the fifth column: the “to assign” column.

This is really where you start. Write out all the projects you want to accomplish this year. If you don’t know the specifics yet, that’s okay. You can call a project something vague such as “produce album TBC” (TBC standing for To be Confirmed”) It means you have given yourself space to work on an album in say, Q3 or Q4. You can decide what album you will work on later in the year. 

I should point out, that this projects list is not exclusively for your work. You want to put your personal projects on there too. Part of the reason we don’t complete our personal projects is that we do not give them the same weight as our professional projects. The reality is, our personal and professional lives are equal. I would argue that your personal life is more important than your professional life, but we’ll save that argument for another day. 

To complete any project you need time. This means if you want to complete a personal project, you will have to give it some time. Now, most people do not treat personal projects with the same focus as professional projects. It’s as if personal projects are luxuries and we feel guilty about doing them. This, of course, is ridiculous. You should never feel guilty about working on personal projects. 

Let’s imagine you have a personal project to clear out your garage ready for the summer. Okay, you now have the basics required for a project. You know the result—clear out the garage. You also have a time frame—the start of summer. Now all you need to do is work out how long you will need and how you are going to do it. 

Now, apparently, the first official day of summer in the northern hemisphere is the 21st of June. So that’s the day you set for the project deadline. That date comes towards the end of the second quarter, so if I were doing this, that would be a Q2 project. 

That gives approximately ten weeks to work on this project. If I divide that up I could spend two hours each weekend cleaning out the garage and by the end of the ten weeks, I would have spent twenty hours on that project. That should be plenty of time to complete that project. 

Now, in the Time Sector System, all I would need to do now is create a recurring task in my task manager that starts on Saturday 2nd April that says “work on garage clean out” and add that task to my recurring areas of focus (this kind of task relates to my lifestyle area of focus) 

I know as long as I spend two hours (out of a 48 hour weekend) on as many weekends as possible during Q2, I will complete that project. 

Now, there will be some variables here. There will be weekends when you will be away and cannot work on the garage. That’s fine skip that weekend. There could be weekends where instead of working on the garage on a Saturday, you could reschedule it for Sunday, or a day in the week if you have a free day somewhere. 

You can use the same principles for your work-related projects. If producing music is part of your core work—which I guess is from your question, Tom, then this is going to be a little easier. With the Time Sector System, you will already have most of the tasks you need to perform set up in your recurring areas of focus. This is your core work, so having time set aside for doing your core work is vital. If it’s got to be done, you need to have a time assigned for doing it. 

You will also have time blocked out on your calendar for this core work too. 

Each week, for example, I have five hours blocked for writing and three hours for recording videos and this podcast. This is my core work, so it must be done each week. So, it has time assigned for it. 

If the projects you are talking about, Tom, are projects on top of your core work, you will need to decide how much time you want to (or need to) spend on these each week and block the time out on your calendar. I do this with my online courses. I have an afternoon blocked out each week for online coursework. Most of the time it’s just updating websites, or adding the occasional supplemental video. But I do have time set aside for working on these. 

Now, here’s a little secret tip for you. If you have set a deadline to complete a project by 30 May, I would block out the 24th and 25th May for solely working on that project. This would be blocked out now. 

The reason for doing this is two-fold. First, it gives you a 48-hour window to dedicate yourself exclusively to this one project. And secondly, knowing you have these 48 hours, you can make sure you have no meetings or other commitments on those days. It’s much easier to decline a meeting a few weeks in advance than it is a few days before. You can tell everyone in yours here of influence you will not be available on those days well in advance. 

The best way to manage your projects is to first know what you want to accomplish in a given time frame—quarters are usually best, but you can apply this to months if you prefer—then set realistic deadline dates for those projects. 

However, the secret sauce, if you like, is to allocate time each week for working on those projects. It’s knowing you have sufficient time each week for project work, that removes the overwhelm, stress and worry that you will not be able to complete the project. Just doing a little bit each week, will keep the momentum going and ensure that you successfully complete the project on time. 

The truth is it all comes down to time. And that means whatever you want to accomplish, personally and professionally, you need to set aside time for working on it. That is inescapable. No time, no completed project. 

Thank you, Tom, for your question and thank you for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 


How To Time Block Efectively

How To Time Block Efectively

March 14, 2022

This week’s question is about time blocking effectively. 


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Episode 222 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 222 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Have you ever tried time blocking? I suspect many of you have tried; probably with mixed results. 

Now for those of you who don’t know about time blocking, time blocking is where you block out increments of time on your calendar for doing work without being interrupted. It prevents other people from scheduling you in meetings and it gives you a sense that you have enough time to do your work each day. 

Does time blocking work?

Yes. It does work, but it only works if you build flexibility into it. There’s a lot of conflicting advice around time blocking. Possibly the worst piece of advice is to block out every minute of the day for your activities. I’ve never met anyone who has been able to successfully do that. 

There are just far too many things that could go wrong when you micromanage your time in that way. Firstly, meetings rarely start and finish on time, traffic jams can cause you delays and then there are all the potential tech issues. 

Time blocking only works if you first know what you need to do and secondly you build in flexibility. Then you only need to add in a little discipline and your productivity AND time management skyrockets. 

Now, before I hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice, If you don’t know already, I have a YouTube channel that is full of advice, tips and tricks on time management, goal setting and productivity. So, if you are looking for a place to help you improve your time management and so much more, then head over and take a look. I am sure there will be something that will help you. 

Plus, you can get all my YouTube videos, PLUS blog post and this podcast in one convenient place by joining my weekly newsletter. You can join with the link in the show notes.

Okay, let me now hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Ally. Ally asks; Hi Carl, I’ve heard you occasionally talk about time blocking and I think I know what it means. Do you have any tips or tricks for time blocking effectively? 

Hi Ally, thank you for your question. 

You’re right I have spoken about time blocking and for me it is a big part of why I can consistently write blog posts, do this podcast and produce YouTube videos every week while at the same time running a full time coaching and teaching business. 

However, to get the most out of time blocking is does involve a bit more than simply blocking time out each day on your calendar. You need to know that what you are doing during your blocked time is important and moving the right things forward. 

Let me explain. 

I’ve seen advice such as block out time for doing focused work each day. Now on the surface that makes sense. After all, if you dedicate two or three hours a day for doing important work without interruptions, you will get a lot done right? 

Well, yes and no. You see, if you don’t know what you are going to do in those two or three hours before you start, you are going to waste a lot of time trying to decide what to do. If you want your time blocked sessions to be productive, you need to know precisely what you will do before you start. 

And that means doing some forward planning—something most people are terrible at.—I struggle to persuade people to give themselves ten minutes at the end of a day to plan the next. If they also need to plan what to do in a three-hour focused time block as well it’s not going to be likely. 

I should point out that daily and weekly planning is the secret weapon of all highly productive people. These are the people who know what needs to be done and when. They are rarely if ever stressed and you will never find them overwhelmed. It’s impossible to be overwhelmed when you know what you have to do and you know when you will do it. And if a crisis happens, you absorb it like water does with a rock and quickly get back on track. 

Anyway, I digress. 

The first thing you need to know is what is important to you. And that really does mean what is important to you—not your company or your clients. What’s important in your life? 

How important is spending time with your family? Exercise? Taking a walk in nature? Meditation? These all need time. Time is not something you can magically pull out of a hat on demand. If you want to do something you must allocate time for it. If that’s not a law of physics it should be. 

Now, most people operate on an “if I have time” principle. If I have time I will call my parents. If I have time I’ll go for a run this weekend. If I have time I will clear out the garage. 

The problem is the “if I have time” principle does not work. This is why so many garages don’t have any space for the cars they were built for. It’s why almost 60% of the western world are overweight and why so many parents complain they rarely hear from their children these days. 

We never have ‘spare’ time. If you want to do something you have to schedule it. You have to make a commitment to yourself to do it. 

Your garage would get cleared if for the next three Saturdays you scheduled 10 am to 1 pm for garage cleaning and it was blocked in your calendar. You would get control of your health if you scheduled 30 minutes every day for exercise and your parents would be a lot happier if you made 7 pm on a Saturday night the time you call your parents. 

So the first step to time blocking effectively is to schedule time for doing the things you want to do. Start with yourself. That way your work is not going to dominate your life. 

Next, your work. Here we need to ask the question: What is my core work? This is the work you are employed to do. 

Now a salesperson is not employed to spend 80% of their time filling out CRMs and documents for the benefit of lazy sales managers. A Salesperson is employed to sell. So, at least 80% of their time needs to be spent selling or doing work that is likely to result in a sale—follow-ups, calling customers and meeting prospects. 

A salesperson’s core work is to sell. So any activity that leads to a sale, needs to be blocked out on their calendar. 

This applies equally to teachers, designers, architects, real estate agents and doctors. Time spent doing the work you are trained and employed to do needs to be blocked out on your calendar. 

Now, of course, teachers and doctors are likely to have some kind of rota system (a kind of time blocking if you think about it) where they are either teaching or on duty. When I taught at the university, the university gave me my teaching schedule and I entered that into my calendar. 

When it came to marking exam papers, that was time I needed to block out, but the university told me the date they wanted the papers returned, so it was easy for me to find the two or three days I needed to mark and evaluate the papers. 

Whatever work you do, you will have some core duties that are your responsibility, It is these core duties you need to find time blocking for each week. 

Now, a little tip here. If you can fix these time blocks for set times per week you will find your life is a lot easier. For instance, I write one blog post and two newsletters each week. In total, I need around five hours each week to do this, so I block three hours out on a Monday morning called “writing time” and two hours on a Tuesday morning. This ensures that I always have time each week to do my writing. 

Likewise, I need three hours for doing my YouTube videos each week, so I have three hours blocked out on a Friday morning for that. 

These times are fixed and it makes life so much easier. When I begin the week, I know I have time for my writing and video recording. 

Now, I know it might not be possible to fix time like this, but see if you can. It makes planning the week so much easier.

Here’s a tip for you. 

Design your “perfect” week. To do this create a new calendar in your calendar app and call it “Perfect week”. Then from a blank calendar sketch out how you would lie your week to be with all your personal work time blocks. 

You want to include how much sleep you want by putting in you're going to bed and waking up times. Then how long do you want for yourself in the morning for morning routines etc? Make sure you have plenty of blank spaces for the unexpected. 

This gives you a good idea of how your week would look if you had everything you want to do on there and will help you decide if it is possible. Often you might find what you want to do and the time you have available is not realistic and you can make some modifications. 

Time blocking is a very effective way to get control of your time and ensure you get the things you want to do done. But, you need to commit to it and treat your calendar as sacred territory. It’s no good spending time building your “perfect” week and then ignoring your calendar. If you do decide that time blocking, or some form of it, is for you then commit to doing it. This is not something you dabble at. It’s something you commit to. 

I hope that has helped, Ally. Thank you for your question. And before we finish, I have just finished recording a new course on time blocking. Details of this will be on my website in the coming days if it’s not already there. 

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


How To Find Your Purpose

How To Find Your Purpose

March 7, 2022

This week’s podcast is about identifying your purpose—possibly the most difficult area of focus to define.

You can subscribe to this podcast on:

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The Working With… Weekly Newsletter

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Episode 221 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 221 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

One of the parts of life I talk about is areas of focus and there are eight areas we all share. These are:

Family and relationships.

Lifestyle and life experiences




Health and fitness


And life’s purpose

Many of these areas are easy to define and establish what they mean to us. However, most people struggle with their life’s purpose. 

Now, I suspect this is because we think our life’s purpose needs to be something grandiose and world-changing when in reality life’s purpose is nothing more than helping other people and contributing in some way to our society and that can take form in multiple different ways. 

So, this week, I am exploring how you can establish and develop your life purpose so you can work on bringing balance to all eight of these areas. 

Now, before we get to this week’s question, have you joined my free weekly newsletter yet? This is a weekly newsletter that comes out every Friday and brings you all the content I produced that week including my YouTube videos, podcasts and blog post as well what I have been reading and watching from others. 

Additionally, you get a weekly productivity or goal setting tip. It's tremendous value and will give you something more constructive to read and watch over the weekend. 

All you need to do is use the link in the show notes to join. 

Okay, time for me now to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Jamie. Jamie asks: Hi Carl, I’ve recently been working through your Areas Of Focus Workbook and have most of the areas worked out. The one I am struggling with, though, is life’s purpose. I really don’t know what my life purpose is. Could you give me some ideas about what I should be writing here? 

Hi Jamie, thank you for the question and for downloading and working through the workbook. 

Before I begin, I should mention, if you want to get a copy of the Areas of Focus Workbook. You can download it for free from my downloads centre on my website. 

Okay, as I mentioned in the opening, we all have eight areas of focus. We all have them, the only thing is what these areas mean to us will be different and how important they will be. For me, health and fitness is higher up than finances. For others, their self-development could be high up and spirituality low down.

For the most part, these will be easy to define. Family and relationships, for instance, is likely to be the easiest to define and, as Jamie mentions, life’s purpose is very difficult. 

So, what does life’s purpose mean?

Now, this may be different for many of you, but the way I see life’s purpose is in contributing back to society. It’s in giving and helping. 

Now, let me ask you a question; how do you feel when you have helped someone out of a difficult situation? I know I feel great. I get a buzz from helping people. 

When I was in my early twenties, I did not really think about how I felt about it, but now, as I look back through my life I realise the most fulfilling moments in my personal and professional life are those moments when I have helped someone or contributed to a worthwhile cause. 

There is something special about using your skills and knowledge to help someone in need. This is why I don’t really believe anyone should retire. Sure, by all means, leave your job, take some time out for yourself, but if you really want to be happy, you should use the knowledge and skills you developed over your professional life to help your community. You could write about your experiences, help out at a community centre or go to a local college and teach. 

If you have taken care of your financial area of focus, your life will no longer be about earning a living, now your life should be about giving back to society. 

Let me explain using my own life experience. When I was in my twenties I did not really know what I wanted to do. I tried all sorts of jobs, from hotel management to car sales. And while I liked all those jobs, they really were just ways to earn a bit of money so I could go out clubbing with my friends on a weekend. 

I hated Monday mornings and I remember sitting in my living room on a Sunday night dreading going back to work. I lived for the weekends and it was a miserable existence. If you are living your life for the weekends then 70% of your life is going to waste. 

The funny thing is, as I look back now, any additional work given to me was always a pain. I always felt overwhelmed and client problems caused me stress and worry. While I loved law and enjoyed working with the people I worked with, I was not really happy inside. I was still going to work to pay the bills. 

Things changed for me when I took a year out to teach English in Korea. I knew I need to think about my future, I couldn’t bear to feel I was going to spend the rest of my working life living for a salary. 

It was when I began teaching I discovered that helping people was incredible. Life no longer became about me, it became about my students. I was consumed with finding betters ways to build their confidence when speaking English. I stopped hating Sunday evenings—in fact I was often so excited to get back into the classroom I struggled to sleep. 

Now, I found myself still going out with my colleagues and friends on a weekend, but my life during the week was no longer about living for the weekend. I got to live life every day. 

What changed? The biggest change was my professional life was no longer about me. It became about my students. And this is really what your life’s purpose is all about. It’s about using your skills and knowledge to help other people. When you have that shift in mindset, your whole life changes.

The first change you will notice is you no longer worry about the clock. When I worked in an office, I arrived a few minutes before my start time and I left as soon as I could at the end of the day. Now, I have no problem spending a few extra minutes helping a student or client with a problem. 

My relationships have improved too. Now, when I am with my friends and family I am no longer worrying about work and having to go into the office the next day. I am more positive, a better person to be around and when I am with my family and friends and really am with them—instead of my mind still worrying about work. 

When you think about it, working 9 till 5 (or what every time you work) is just a concept from industrialisation. Before we industrialised, we didn’t worry about the clock. We woke up at sunrise, we went out into the fields and did our work, returning when the sun went down. Because our only goal was to provide food for our families through the unproductive winters, life was much harder, but it was also a lot simpler. Spring, summer and autumn were about growing, nurturing and harvesting our crops. Winter was about doing the repairs and preparing for the coming spring. 

We got more rest in the winter because the days were shorter. We worked long hours in the summer when the days were longer. 

We essentially worked with nature. Now we work against nature, and that causes us to feel anxious, stressed and leads to all sorts of dangerous lifestyle diseases. 

So to really understand what our life purpose is, we want to ask ourselves: how can I help and contribute to society? 

From that question, you can look at your profession—how does your work help other people. If you are in sales, you are solving people’s problems by providing them with a tool or service that will solve their problems. If you are in customer service, you provide answers to customers’ problems and, of course, teachers and doctors help people develop themselves and stay healthy. 

When you think about it, your life’s purpose will always be about giving back. Writers bring joy and entertainment into people’s lives. Actors and comedians also. Scientists develop new ways of improving people’s lives and find better and cleaner ways to heat our homes and fuel our cars. 

So, Jamie, think about how you help others. What is it about your work that solves other people’s problems? Change your perspective about your work from one that provides you with an income to one that gives you the opportunity to help people who need your skills and knowledge to solve difficult and stressful problems in their lives. 

Last week, I wrote in my Learning Centre’s Learning Note, that your work needs to change from being just a job to become your mission to help. When you wake up in the morning knowing that what you will do today will help someone, you are going to start the day with a lot more energy and purpose than if you wake up focused on writing reports, responding to emails and attending meetings. 

As I wrote in my learning note:

“Your job is a vehicle that allows you to help people. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to help someone in some way. To solve their problems, help them overcome a difficulty, or give them support when they need it. 

Whether you are an author, a financial advisor, a doctor, or a real estate agent, your job is to help people. When you see your work from that perspective, you will never worry about how much time you spend doing your work. You will be present when with your family, you’ll be happier, less stressed and will be a pleasure to be around. 

Surely, that is better than worrying about how much time you spend doing work? “

I hope that has helped, Jamie, and thank you for your question. 

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


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