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.