This week I am delighted to welcome back to the show, Kev Blackburn.
In this episode, part 1 of 2) we talk about getting back on track if you have fallen slightly behind on your goals.
This week I am delighted to welcome back to the show, Kev Blackburn.
In this episode, part 1 of 2) we talk about getting back on track if you have fallen slightly behind on your goals.
This week we are back to managing email and how to manage multiple email accounts.
Hello and welcome to episode 88 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
We’re back to email this week with a very interesting question about managing multiple email addresses and whether to have them all in one place or to have different apps for different email addresses—a sort of compartmentalisation for email.
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Okay, it’s now time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Salvatore. Salvatore asks: Hi Carl, I have four email addresses: work, personal and two volunteer group emails. What do you recommend? One email app per address (Outlook, Gmail, web) or should I have all emails delivered to one inbox and filter somehow. Thank you!
Thank you, Salvatore, for your question.
Many people have multiple email addresses. We have our work email address, a personal address and probably a few others we have accumulated over the years. The question is how do we manage all those emails.
The ideal is to have one email app and have all your accounts coming in to that one email account. Now of course, I know this might not be possible in all cases. You may have Outlook for your business email and you company could have strict policies about how you use that account. In that case, you have no choice. In many ways that can work for you as it will enable you to place a hard edge between your work and your personal life.
But let’s zoom out a little here. Email, whether it is a business related email or a personal one is still the same thing functionally. It is an input that needs a decision making on it. What do you need to do with the email? Reply? Save it for reference? Send it to someone else to deal with or delete it. It does not matter where that email comes from. You still need to make a decision about it. So, having everything come in to one place rather than multiple apps means you have less to check and therefore there less chance anything will get missed.
I use Apple Mail both on my computer and my phone and iPad. All emails I receive come into that one app. I have folders set for each account though. For example, my two businesses - the productivity work and my English communication work each have their own email addresses. I also have a personal account for personal messages and online shopping. They all come in to the one app and one inbox.
My basic email folder structure is:
Action Today - this folder is for any email that requires action. It could be a reply, it could be something I have to read or it could be something else I need to do. If whatever it is I need to do will take longer than two minutes, then I will put the email into that folder for the right account.
Next up I have my Waiting For folder. Usually, the only emails in there are emails I am waiting for something to be delivered. Online shopping for example and occasionally an email I waiting for a reply on. I check this folder once a day and once I have received the order or the reply I am waiting for I will remove the email and archive it.
Then there is my archive folder for everything else. Once I have dealt with an email I will swipe left and the email automatically goes off to my archive folder.
The question most people have is what about emails related to specific projects. This one is really your call. If you feel more comfortable having emails related to projects you are working on in one place, you can create folders for those specific projects. I don’t typically do this, but I do create specific folders for trips I am making. For example, last April when I went over to the UK and Ireland I created a folder for that trip because I have airline itineraries as well as hotel booking confirmations and car hire details. I wanted to have all these in one place in case I needed them while I was on the trip.
Once I got back home I archived all those emails and deleted the folder.
I have another trip coming up in September when I will be going over to Singapore. Again, I have created a folder specifically for that trip so all my hotel booking confirmations and flight itineraries are kept in there. This means if I need to access any information quickly at an airport or hotel, I can get it very quickly without having to search through all my emails.
Now, if you do have strict rules about what comes in to your work email account you have no choice. You will have to have separate email apps for your personal email and your work email. That should not be a big problem though. The only thing you need to do is to make sure you are processing your personal email every twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
This can be easily forgotten as you probably don’t treat personal email as important as your work email. A tip here would be to use your to-do list manager to remind you to check your personal email once a day. If you only check it once a week or once every few days its inbox will fill up and you will have to spend a lot of time clearing it out. Spending ten minutes or so each day processing your inbox here will keep you up to date and make sure you are not missing anything important.
I think the biggest problem with email is we treat it as something more than just another input. But that it really all it is. It’s another input of stuff requiring your attention and a decision. So the secret, if it really is a secret, is to make sure you are processing it regularly and make those decisions about what needs to happen with it. Creating a system for processing your inbox or inboxes will help you to become much faster at making those decisions over time. If you can have all your email coming in to one app, that’s ideal. But if that is not possible, then make sure you build the system of processing your various accounts on a daily basis. Work related email may need checking several times a day, your personal email less frequently. That’s the choice you need to make.
For me, the advantage of using Apple’s Mail app is its ability to create rules within the Mac OS system. Sadly this does not work on iOS mail, but I have created a unified Action Today smart folder where all my actionable emails come into one folder on my Mac. All three of my accounts have an Action Today folder and I want to see all these emails in one place. To do that I set up a Smart Mailbox to collect any email that I have designated as an Action Today email. I have tested many email apps over the years and I have never found an app that will allow me to do that. Newton, Spark and AirMail allow me to have multiple accounts but these are all separated within the app. So, if I use any of those apps I have to check three folders for actionable emails. With Mac OS Mail, I only have one folder to check.
To overcome this, you can flag actionable emails, and most of these third party apps will collect all your flagged emails into one place. Once you have dealt with the email you can simply unflag it. It’s not a perfect way to do it, but it does work.
So there you go, Salvatore. I hope that has helped. Try to keep all your accounts in one app. If that is not possible make sure you are using the minimum number of apps and check them everyday so they do not start to become overwhelming. Doing that should help you to keep everything under control. And remember, any email—personal or work related—is still just another input you need to make a decision on and then do something about it.
Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you’d like answering, then you can email me - email@example.com or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes.
It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.
Do find you are always looking for the best app for your productivity yet never seem to be able to find it? This week, I answer a question that might just help.
Hello and welcome to episode 87 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week’s it’s all about productivity apps and how to get the right one and more importantly stick with it once you have made the decision.
But before we get into this week’s question, don’t forget the Time And Life Mastery online course has been updated. It’s a great course that will show you how to develop a plan for your life and then how to create the process for achieving it.
This course has helped thousands of people over the years and now it has been completely updated, re-recorded and is proving to be a bit of a best seller. So get yourself enrolled and take control of your life and your time now.
Details of the course are in the show notes. I can’t wait to see you on the course soon.
Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Heather. Heather asks: Hi Carl, I’ve been trying to get myself more organised over the last year or so, but I can’t seem to find the right apps. I’ve tried so many, but find I am soon looking for another one. Do you have any tips that will help me to find the right apps? There’s just so many to choose from.
Thank you, Heather, for your question. I’ve written a lot about this over the years because I used to be obsessed with the latest and shiniest new apps. I tried pretty much everything out there, always telling myself that this new app was going to solve all my productivity problems. I think on some weird, deep level I hoped these new apps would do the work for me.
The truth is, no app is ever going to do the work for you and the latest and shiniest app will have the just as many frustrations as the previous app you used.
Let me give you an example. When the new Apple Notes app came out two or three years ago, I thought this is it! This is the perfect app. Built for the Apple ecosystem and with the Apple Pencil in mind. I thought, finally an app that would rival Evernote and give me everything I wanted.
Ha! That didn't happen. Apple Notes is great for taking notes, there’s no question there. But you wait until you have a few hundred notes in there and you want to find a note you made several months earlier. Good luck with that.
So while Apple Notes does look better than Evernote, in my opinion, it doesn't come close to being as good as Evernote when you want to find a specific note.
I had the same issue when Notion came along. I spent a whole afternoon playing around with it. WOW! This app promised to do so much. It could be a place for me to store my goals and plans, be a research tool and be a replacement for Evernote. It appeared to be able to do everything for me. I was particularity drawn to the idea of it being able to act as a dashboard for me. A place where I could see all my open projects, goals and other stuff I wanted to see on a daily basis.
As I played around with it I began to realise that while Notion could do so much, what it could do was not as good as the existing tools I was using. I could see so many frustrations. So the advantage of having everything managed in one app, was negated by the compromises I would have to make and of course, there was the problem with all those settings. When you have an app that allows you to customise almost everything from fonts, background colours and images, you are never satisfied, so you spend a lot of time messing around with them and not doing any work. (Although you convince yourself you are doing work because all these changes to your settings will somehow improve your workflow)
So, you need to choose your apps with care. To do that, the best place to start is with a pen and piece of paper. Ask yourself what do you want your apps to do for you?
Let’s take your to-do list manager for example. Do you prefer to see things in a simple list, or are you more of a visual person? Do you prefer to see things as cards or as lists of projects? Apps like Things, OmniFocus and Todoist will give you your to-dos in a simple list format. Or would you prefer to see things in a more Kanban layout where you see your projects as cards on a board? For that, an app like Trello or Asana would be a good fit.
When it comes to notes, again how you want your notes to be presented to you is important. Google Keep gives a card like layout, Evernote and Apple Notes will give you a more traditional list layout.
Another question for your notes app is how many notes will you want to keep in there? If you are planning on storing all your digital notes in the app, then Evernote or Microsoft OneNote is the way forward. If it is just a few notes, a quick place to capture your ideas, then something like Apple Notes or Google Keep would work well. But, and this is a big but, you need to choose something that works for you.
And that really is the point here, Heather. Find something that you like and works for the way you like to work. I’ve done the “if it works for that organised person then it must work for me” thing in the past. The truth is it will not necessarily work for you. We all work differently, think differently and have different ideas about what looks nice and what doesn’t. Many people don't like the way Evernote looks, that’s okay. I’ve got past that. Many people cannot. There are plenty of functional, aesthetically pleasing apps to choose from out there. Personally, I think Microsoft OneNote looks better than Evernote, but that’s just a personal thing.
Once you have chosen what apps you want to use, then the next stage of the process begins. Learn everything you possibly can about the app. Go to YouTube, find tutorials, read blogs and go through every menu item to see what each one does. Set up a ghost project (a fake project to use for experimentation) in your chosen to do list manager and test out every possible variation you can think of.
That’s really the trick with becoming better organised and more productive. Knowing how to use your apps. Knowing how to quickly add a new item, process that item to its correct place and being able to retrieve it when you need it quickly and effortlessly.
And that brings me to collecting stuff. For me, this is the biggest one. If it is quick and easy to collect my to-dos and notes, I am not going to resist. If it is complicated, involves too many button clicks or I have to think too much, I will resist. Reducing the button pushes and clicks for me is vital. I have what I call “the changing trains” test. Can I easily collect a thought or idea when I am changing trains? I do actually test this. Any new way of collecting must pass that test before I adopt that new approach. If you can collect a task, idea or note while switching trains then it is fast enough. There must be a lot of people in Seoul who think I am very strange taking into my phone or watch to test while switching trains to see how fast collecting is haha.
Another consideration for me is how easy is it to organise my projects? You see, you do not want to be spending too much time inside your productivity tools. You productivity tools are not where your work happens. Your work happens in your email apps, Microsoft Word, Google Docs or PowerPoint or Keynote. The more time I spend inside my writing app, Ulysses, for example, the better. That’s where the work happens. The productivity apps I use must have drag and drop for tasks into projects for example. I can process an inbox of 15 tasks in Todoist to their rightful projects in less than five minutes. That includes adding any necessary dates, priorities or labels. The same with Evernote, I process my Evernote inbox every weekend—usually as part of my weekly review and I can easily process twenty to thirty notes in less than ten minutes.
But processing is not the only thing that needs to be fast. Being able to search and find what you are looking for is also a crucial element. If searching for something is laborious or difficult then the app fails my tests. The app must be easy to search within. Evernote’s search is legendary. I think at the moment that one feature is what is keeping Evernote relevant. Likewise, Todoist search is incredibly fast and the search bar is at the top in every part of Todoist.
So there you go, Heather. To find the right app you do need to do a little testing. Four things need testing:
The first is how fast can you collect your tasks, ideas and notes? Would your app pass the “changing trains” test? If not, then it won’t work for you. Find an app that you can collect your stuff quickly and easily with the minimum of clicks.
The second is, do you actually like using the app? If you don’t like the way it works or you do not like the design, then you are not going to want to use it. So choose an app that appeals to the way you work and your own aesthetic tastes. We are all different here.
Thirdly, how fast can you process the things you collected? You want processing your things to be fast. Remember your productivity apps don’t do the work for you, they only tell you what needs doing and how. So the less time you spend inside your apps, the more work you will get done.
And finally, can you easily find what you are looking for when you need to find it? Searching is a crucial element when you are building your own productivity system. You are going to be throwing a lot of stuff in these apps and if you are not able to find what you put in there, the app fails. So check out the search function. It will be important.
So those are the four tests. And remember, once you have learnt everything you can about these apps, then stick with them for at least a year. You need to give the app time to become part of you and part of your system. If you are constantly switching your apps you will never learn how to user them properly and no app will be good enough for you. Stick with the apps for at least a year and make them work for the way you work.
I hope that answers your question, Heather. Thank you for sending it in.
Thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then send me an email—firstname.lastname@example.org—or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be very happy to answer your question for you.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Is your to-do list overwhelming and the cause of a lot of your stress? This week, I answer a question about reducing your to0do list to a more manageable level.
Hello and welcome to episode 86 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week it’s all about getting overwhelming to-do lists down to more manageable levels. It’s having to look at a to-do list that drops off the bottom of the screen that causes so much stress and ultimately makes us not want to look at our daily to-do lists, which is really not what a to-do list is meant to do.
Before we get into the question and answer, I would just like to thank all of you who have enrolled in the Time And Life Mastery version 3 course. Your support enables me to keep doing what I do and to help many more people become better organised and more productive and I am so grateful to you all.
And if you are not ready to purchase an online productivity course, that’s okay. I do have a free basic guide to building your own productivity course that you can enrol in. It is a short, forty minute or so course that will give you the basics of creating a productivity system that will work for you. Remember, any system needs to work for you. This course gives you the foundations on which to build your own system and to help you become better organised and more productive.
Details for this free course are in the show notes.
This week’s question comes from Claire. Claire asks: Hi Carl. Every time I look at my to-do list I just feel completely overwhelmed and never complete it. Every day I have to move a lot of tasks to another day. Am I doing anything wrong?
Hi Claire, I'm pretty sure you are not the only one experiencing this. With so much being thrown at us every day from all sorts of places it is very hard to get everything we plan to do each day done. However, there are a few techniques you can use that can help you.
The first is to get realistic about what you can and cannot do in a day. We often think we can do a lot more than we actually can.
A few years ago, I did an experiment to find what the optimum number of tasks I could complete each day was—I know, I lead a very exciting life— I monitored my daily task completion for a week and averaged it out. It turned out I averaged twelve tasks per day. That was a bit of a shock. I always thought I was efficient and got a lot more tasks done than that, but there it was, in black and white, so to speak, twelve meaningful tasks per day.
Now I did not include my routine tasks in that number—you know the little things that just have to be done each day that do not improve your life in any way. Taking the garbage out, walking the dog, doing the washing up etc.
Having this information was great though. It meant I could plan my days with realism and not optimism.
You see, our brains have no real concept of time or context when we think about our work. That’s why when we think about a project we would like to complete we sometimes believe we can do it all in one day. The reality is you can’t—not if you want to do the work to a high degree of quality. It is also why a task such as a reply to an email, can often cause anxiety because our brain is telling us it will take hours when in reality it would only take around ten minutes.
This is why using your calendar to plan out your day is so helpful. Because calendars are organised by time slot you can allocate those slots to the work you have to do. It gives you a realistic perspective on how much time you have available to do your work each day.
Going back to the number of tasks you complete each day, if you do the same experiment, then average out the number of tasks you complete per day you will find your optimum daily number of tasks you can complete. I would then suggest you reduce that number by two.
For me, that got me to ten tasks per day.
Now the beauty of just having ten tasks on your main daily to-do list is it never looks overwhelming. It’s manageable and is based on the reality of the number of tasks I can complete each day. There is no point in me fighting this. Sure, I would love to get more tasks completed per day, but the reality is I cannot.
Instead what I had to do was become better at prioritising my day—which, when you think about it, is no bad thing—It forces me to decide what tasks are important. The tasks that will move my life and projects forward, and what tasks are what I like to describe as vanity tasks—tasks that feel good to check off, but do not really move anything forward. Things like: clean up my desk, reorganise my notes and clean up my to-do list.
When you develop your skill at prioritising you begin to get much better at moving the right things forward. What I also found was that projects that were not moving forward consistently began moving towards completion much faster. There was a lot of wins in this small, but significant change or approach.
As for your routines, a lot of these don't need to be on your to-do list at all because there are some natural triggers. A natural trigger is something that naturally reminds you to do something. You know when to take the garbage out because the trash can is full. You know when to refuel your car because the fuel warning light will come on and you know to do the laundry because your laundry basket is full. All these are what are called natural triggers. You don't also need a task on your to-do list.
Look around for these natural triggers. They are your best friend.
Now for the routine tasks that do need to be on your to-do list, then these can be tagged as routines so you can filter them out. Again, this depends on the app you are using, or if you are a pen and paper person, you could have them listed in your notebook on a separate page and you can go through them one by one to make sure you have done them.
When I add my routines to the ten tasks I have committed to, I find I am completing on average fifteen to twenty tasks per day and I am not having to reschedule many tasks at all. A lot of my routine tasks are optional, but I often find at the end of the day, I only have three or four of these left to complete so I just get them done.
Another way to help reduce overwhelming lists is to make full use of tags and filters. Now, this depends on what app you are using. If you use OmniFocus, you can create perspectives which allow you to filter out tasks you cannot do or do not want to do right now. Likewise, with Todoist, you can create filters to remove tasks you do not want to see first thing in the morning.
I filter tasks by the time of day. I use the flags in Todoist for this. Red flags are the objectives that must be completed that day. I limit these to just two per day. I use orange flags for my morning tasks and blue flags for the afternoon.
For those of you not using Todoist, you can use tags. Just create a tag for AM and a tag for PM and when you plan your day... you do plan your day don't you?— you can add those tags based on where you are going to be that day. This way, when you start the day because you have already decided what you will do in the morning you can just open up the tag, filter or perspective for the right time of day and get started. If you have prioritised your day and limited the number of tasks you commit to for that day, then this list is going to be much smaller and ultimately much more motivating.
Finally, plan your day the day before. This for me is a no-brainer. When we process our inboxes, we often add dates to tasks that are not really based on the day they really need to be done. We tend to date things wishfully. We date tasks for dates we “wish” to complete them. The problem with this approach is that often we end up with days—towards the end of the week funnily enough—where we have far too many tasks. If you sit down for ten minutes or so at the end of the day, look at your list for tomorrow, check your calendar to make sure you have the time available and make a decision on what tasks you will complete and when you fill always start the day with a rock solid, achievable plan for the day. This is what I call the 2+8 prioritisation technique. Ask yourself what are my two objectives for tomorrow—the tasks I will complete whatever happens and what are the eight other tasks I would like to complete?
Once you have that done, you can go home, relax and know your day is planned and you have set yourself an achievable amount of work for the day. No more overwhelm no more stress or anxiety. Just that great feeling of knowing you have everything under control.
Thank you very much, Claire, for your question and thank you to all of you for listening to this episode. If you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then just send me a quick email, email@example.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Do you have the patter of tiny feet around your home? Are you raising a bunch of lovely kids? How’s your productivity going? In this week’s episode find out a few strategies to cope with those little bundles of joy called kids.
Hello and welcome to episode 85 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week I have a great question about coping with a young family. Now anyone with children will understand the difficulties these little ones pose to our overall productivity. But with a few simple adjustments and a little shift in your mindset, this period of life does not need to be stressful or too harmful to our productivity.
Don’t forget, if you haven’t enrolled in the third edition of Time And Life Mastery yet, you should do so soon. The early-bird discount period ends tomorrow (Midnight Monday) and I would hate for you to miss out on not only a fantastic, life-transforming course, but also a great price - just $85.00.
For those $85.00 you get Time and Life Mastery version 3, the Updated Time And Life Mastery Workbook AND… You also get free access to Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s an incredible value for just a tiny investment.
So go on, get yourself enrolled today and begin transforming your life into a life you want to live.
Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Matt. Matt asks: Hi Carl, I'm a father of 2 daughters, (3 and 1) and naturally they take or impact a lot of my time. I've been trying to build a productivity system for a long time that works for me, as well as implementing a lot of the tips and routines suggested by you and others. However, everything I have found seems to rely on building a predictable routine for oneself, which is near impossible with children. Do you have any tips that will help me?
Hi Matt, Thank you so much for this question. I am sure there are a lot of people experiencing this joyous, life-changing experience as well as the challenges that come along with it.
Having small children around is a huge demand on your time and disrupts the most organised of people. But let’s be honest here, raising children is likely to be the biggest responsibility and best experience you will ever have in your life and one you should enjoy, cherish and let it be where you do your best work not just professionally but as a parent.
The first point is as you say, Matt, it is almost impossible to stick to any kind of plan when your kids wake up at different times each day and in all likelihood go off to sleep at different times too. So what can you do?
Well, the first thing to understand is if you are trying to stick to a routine at the same time each day you are only going to be fighting yourself. It is not going to happen with any consistency and ultimately you will fail. On that point no matter what you do your kids will win in the end. So rather than have a set time for morning routines, it would be better to start your morning routines when you wake up. Now that could be 4am or it could be 7am the key is you begin the day the same way.
Now we all follow some kind of routine each day. When we wake up we make our coffee, we brush our teeth, shower etc. So whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you do still follow some kind of routine each day. With kids, you have added tasks. Breakfast needs preparing, kids need dressing etc. All these routines are things you just do because you have to do them.
It can be useful to have a morning ‘have I done?’ checklist. What this means is you have a list of things you have to do in a morning - not wish to do things - wish to do things should never be on this list. This list is for things that you absolutely have to do and all it is doing is asking “have I done this?”
This question—“have I done this?”—is a powerful question because rather than telling you to do something it is asking you whether you have done it and if you haven’t you can decide if you want to do it or not. It gives you a better sense of calm, when all around you may be chaos. I know this might sound simplistic, but it works. You should try it. It is far less commanding and gives you an option to decide.
Now as an aside here, if you create this morning checklist on a little whiteboard in your kitchen you can involve your children in the process too. You can ask them the questions one by one and they can check off the tasks as you go through them. By starting them young you are installing habits that they will get a great deal of benefit from in later life. Now that’s a win-win for all of you.
Now as for your own personal morning routines, again you need to be flexible. You will have to accept there will be days when you are not going to be able to fit in exercise, or reading. Your kids are going to demand your attention. But from a parent’s perspective, that’s a great thing. You are getting some quality time with your kids. If possible, involve your kids in your exercise. You can ask them to sit on your back while you do press-ups for example, or you can get them to hold your knees when you do your stomach crunches. Another thing you can have them do is press the stopwatch start button and tell you when you have done 30 seconds or a minute. There are endless ways of involving your kids in an exercise programme.
Of course, you might not get the exercise session you want, but at least you get some exercise and you have just given your children some quality time with you.
Okay, what about your personal projects
For the most part, your projects are going to have to be realistic. You will need to reduce the things you used to do before your children came along. There’s no point in thinking that your kids will all go to bed at the same time, sleep soundly and wake up at the same time each day. That’s never going to happen. So if you have any thoughts about being able to micro-manage your day you are heading for a big surprise. That won't happen. But that’s okay.
Rather than micro-scheduling your day, you are better working from a master list of projects and working on them as and when you get time. I’ve found it’s often better to plan what you would like to do on a weekly basis and keep that plan to the minimum of projects.
It’s really all about what you can do in the moments of time you get when your kids are either asleep or engaged in their own activities.
Your kids might be watching tv or drawing. While they are doing that you can do some of your own work. Of course, once again it is not ideal, but doing that is better than not doing anything at all. Just being able to move your projects forward a little is better than not moving forward at all.
With all that said, collecting your stuff and spending ten to fifteen minutes each day to organise that stuff should be possible even with the most energetic of kids. Kids drop off at some stage and when they get organising. It might be your only chance all day.
You could, of course, do what my mother did when she wanted some quiet time. She’d give me a spoonful of cough medicine and within twenty minutes I was sound asleep. I didn't turn out that bad... or did I? hahaha oh those were the days.
Now there is the other part to this and that is to negotiate time with your partner. Some friends of mine came up with an arrangement where when the husband came home from work—usually around 7—their young son was his responsibility. He was also responsible for their son on a Saturday.
Those Saturdays turned into some huge adventures from parking in the car park near the end of the local airport’s runway to watch the aeroplanes land and take-off to fishing at a local river. It was not only a great experience for their son it was hugely beneficial for the husband too because he was able to get time away from screens and work.
Whatever way you look at it, having kids running around the house is a joyous thing. For our own personal productivity, we need to adapt and create systems and strategies that allow us to have that important quality time with our kids and carve out some time for ourselves to work on our own projects.
It’s not easy, of course, but with a little foresight, creativity and a good strong list of things you want to complete is not impossible.
I should point out that the one thing you need to keep a tab on is your own sleep cycle. A lack of sleep will kill any ideas you have about staying productive, no matter how organised you are. Pay close attention to your own sleep. If you are not getting enough, prioritise catch-up time. This isn't about reducing your available time still further. This is more about making sure when you have time available it is not sabotaged by your own exhaustion. A lack of sleep will lead to mistakes which will need fixing, missed deadlines and poor performance. It just isn't worth it. If you are exhausted and you have a choice between clearing your email inbox and getting a twenty-minute nap. Take the nap every time.
Your email can wait. Your sleep cannot.
Whether you have kids or not, no matter how busy you are when you are at home, you will always have pockets of time to get on with the things you want to get on with. If you have a master list of projects you can look at when you do have a pocket of time, then no matter how busy you are you will be able to make progress on something. And that is what it is all about. Taking advantage of those pockets of time to get the stuff you want done.
I hope that goes some way to answering your question, Matt and thank you for allowing me to use your question.
Thank you too to all of you for listening. Don't forget if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, just email me, firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes.
It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.
This week, we return to that familiar problem of sticking with your system once you have created it.
Hello and welcome to episode 84 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week we return to sticking with a system, the most common question asked this week, indeed I think on the last few weeks it’s been the number one question.
Before we get into the question, in case you missed it, The Time And Life Mastery version 3 launched last week. This is a massive update with almost all classes re-recorded and with an updated workbook and downloadable sheets.
This course is truly transformational. It takes you on a journey of discovery. You learn how to discover the things you want to do in your life and I show you how you can develop those dreams and goals and turn them into actionable steps that take you towards achieving them. You get to learn about the visual timeline, the 5 transformational questions to ask yourself and you begin work on your 50 things you want to do and achieve.
And once you have your list and developed your plan on your visual timeline, I show you how to master your time so you can start taking the steps you need to take to achieve them. It’s not going to be easy—but then nothing worthwhile is easy—but the journey, the experiences and the achievement is what your reward will be and nothing can beat that.
To find out more there is a link in the show notes to the Time And Life Mastery website and if you are quick, you can Dave yourself $15.00 by getting yourself an early-bird discount.
Ok, back to this week’s show and that means it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Brian and Nilesh. They ask: We have set up our systems as you suggest in your courses, but now, after a few weeks we find we are not sticking with the system. Do you have any tips to keep us using the system?
Thank you, Brian and Nilesh, for the great question.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning here. For most of you, when you create a whole new productivity system things are going to be different. You are going to change a few habits and you are going to have to do things differently from the way you have done them before. That means you are changing habits and that is not going to be easy. A few weeks is not really very long to install a new way of doing things and of course, there are going to be times when crises and emergencies will take over the day. That’s just life and we have to develop strategies for dealing with those for when they happen.
So, understanding that in order for any new system to work for you, you will have to change. Now for you to change old habits, you need to take things slowly. Take each step at a time. For instance, I always recommend that you focus on collecting to start with. The reason is simple. If you are not collecting everything into a trusted place, then you will have nothing to organise at the end of the day, so the whole system collapses before you even start.
Now, when it comes to collecting, to stick with that, you need to get fast at collecting. Speed is the objective here. Most of the things you will be collecting will be done on the fly, so your mobile collecting needs to be fast. Whether you are using your mobile phone or a pocket notebook to collect, you need to a) make sure you have it with you at all times and b) you can collect with the minimum of barriers.
I like the old Steve Jobs analogy here. When they were developing the first iPod the goal was to be able to get to any song within three clicks or less. The engineers spent months testing and testing every scenario so that no matter where you were on your iPod, you were no more than three clicks away from the song you wanted.
You need the same mindset when developing your collecting system. No more than three clicks to type. Actually, it should be less for capturing. Ideally, one click and you are typing if you are using a phone—that’s the reason I use Drafts for all my collecting. It’s one click and I am typing what I want to collect.
Part of developing your system is finding the fastest way you can to collect everything. That also includes paper documents. I carry a plastic A4 wallet in my bag so I can slip any paper documents or name cards into that. I empty that out every two or three days, but if something is urgent I will add a task into my to-do list manager.
So, collecting is all about speed.
Organising is about setting time aside each day to organise and decide what needs to happen next with whatever you collected. That could be just adding a task to its rightful project or it could be you decide you no longer need it and so you delete it.
Now with organising, the best way to develop this habit is to set aside 15 minutes at the end of your working day to do your organising. You should only need ten to twenty minutes to do this. So scheduling 15 minutes in your calendar every day at the same time will force you to stop whatever you are doing at that moment and begin organising. This is a little like tidying your desk at the end of your day before you go home.
Let’s say you finish work at 6pm. So, schedule 5:45 to 6:00pm every day as your organising time. I like to call it the Golden Ten - the ten minutes you need to process and plan.
Now, whatever happens, you make sure you do your organising and planning at that time. Even if you are in the middle of something. Stop. Do your organising and then return to whatever you were doing. The reason for this is if you continue working on whatever it is you were working and finish say at 8:30pm or 9:00pm you are going to begin skipping your organising and that’s when your system begins breaking down. Miss one or two like that and you lose momentum. Do not skip it!
It’s only for 15 minutes. Everybody can find 15 minutes each day to do their organising and planning. Schedule it and make sure it happens at the same time each day. It will quickly become a routine and then a habit and once it has, you are much less likely to skip it.
So there you go. Focus on collecting and organising to get you started. These are the easiest parts to becoming better organised and more productive. So develop those habits first.
So the next part to develop is planning and prioritising. This can be a bit more difficult because it takes time, and a little experience, to learn to identify which tasks have the biggest positive impact on your projects and goals. However, if you make sure you are doing your organising every day, you soon begin to see patterns. You see which tasks have a greater impact on the progress of a project. You can then start making sure they are prioritised each day.
You should also reduce the number of tasks you have on your to-do list as much as you can. Long lists of to-dos create overwhelm, and overwhelm will stop you from looking at your lists. When you stop looking at your lists you stop planning and prioritising and then you are at the mercy of everyone else’s emergencies and urgent tasks.
A simple way to do this is to look for natural triggers. Natural triggers are things that automatically tell you something needs doing. The fuel warning light in your car is a good example of a natural trigger. When the low fuel warning light comes on in your car you know you need to put fuel in. You do not need to add that to your to-do list. Likewise things like doing the laundry or taking out the garbage. You know they need doing when the laundry basket or the garbage can is nearly full. You can see that. You do not need them on your to-do list.
You can also reduce your to-do lists by creating an “action today” folder in your email program and putting any email that needs action in there. Then all you need is one task in your to-do list manager that tells you to check your “action today” folder in email. This saves you from having to send actionable emails to your to-do list manager.
Finally, as I talked about last week, you need self-discipline. Without that, you will never stick to any system. You need to give any system or app at least one year to develop and grow with you before changing it. If you are constantly changing apps, or you are constantly changing the time you do your organising and planning then you will fail. It just does not work like that. You need to be disciplined and stick with it no matter what you feel like.
I can promise you if your system keeps failing it is not the app that is causing the failure it is you. You are not giving enough time to develop your new habits and to learn the apps you are using properly
Finally, your calendar is your guide throughout the day. Your to-do list only tells you what to work on next. It is your calendar that tells you how much time you have before your next meeting. Your calendar tells you where you need to be and when and with who and it is your calendar that tells you you need to stop and do your organising.
If you do not treat your calendar with the respect it deserves your whole system will come crashing down. You need to adopt the policy of “what goes on my calendar gets done”. No excuses.
If you start to ignore what you have planned on your calendar then your calendar loses its power. This is why you should never give up control of your calendar to anyone. Not even your boss. It is your calendar and it is your time. Do not let anyone else have control of it. You can allocate time for other people to make appointments with you, but you need to be in control over when that time will be. You also need to block off time for focused work each day. Usually, the best time for that is early in the morning when everyone else is checking their email. You will have at least an hour each day when all your colleagues and customers are checking email so they won’t be bothering you. Use that time wisely and block off time each day to do some undisturbed important work. Again. No excuses. It is the only way you can control what gets done and leaves you in control of your time, and more importantly, your life.
Well, I hope that has helped in some small way, Brian and Nilesh. Really it all comes down to self-discipline and without that, no system, app or device will work. If you don’t develop your self-discipline and habits and change your bad habits then nothing with ever stick.
You need to make a decision now. Be disciplined, collect everything, schedule those fifteen minutes at the end of your day for organising and planning and make sure that what goes on your calendar gets done. That needs to be your focus for the next three months.
At the same time, keep working on becoming faster at collecting so you never resist. Remember if you are not collecting, you will have nothing to organise and that means you have no system.
Thank you for the question, guys and thank you all for listening. Don’t forget to take a look at the Time And Life Mastery course. I put my heart and soul into this course because I know it works and I know it can transform your life is so many positive ways.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
Are you struggling to start any kind of system? Then this week’s podcast is for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 83 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week it’s all about setting up your system and sticking with it. I know a lot of people want to create a productivity system—something that helps them to stay on top of their work and the things important to them—yet fail to stick with their system or find they are always changing their system and apps and never really feel they are getting better.
Before we get to this weeks question, I have something really exciting to announce. The Time And Life Mastery 3 online course is coming later this week. This course will transform your life completely and this year it has been completely re-written and re-recorded.
This course takes you on a journey of discovery. We start with your life. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to have in your life and how to create a plan to change the way things are today so you can begin down the road towards achieving those goals.
Once you have a plan in place you begin the time mastery part of the course where I show you how to build your plan into your daily life and make sure each day you are making progress towards hitting your milestones and your objectives.
This is a complete life course. I have divided it up over four days—although for you big achievers it is possible to do the course in just one day—and throughout the course, you complete a number of exercises designed to help you create the vision and plan you want for you and your family.
More details of this course can be found on the course website which is www.timeandlifemastery.com.
Okay, onto this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question
This week’s question comes from Richard. Richard asks; Hi Carl, I have tried everything to get my life more productive but I just can't get anything to stick. Do you have any tips on how to get started and stay with a system
Oh boy, this is one of those questions I get all the time. There is so much advice out there—a lot of it great advice—but I think sometimes that’s the real problem. There’s so much great advice it can be very hard to choose which advice is best for you.
And in that statement is the heart of my answer to you, Richard. Whatever advice you take, it has to work for you.
Now, I understand we all work differently. That’s one of the wonderful things about being human, we are all so amazingly diverse. With that, though, comes the issue that one size definitely does not fit all.
I like all my stuff to be organised and in its rightful place. When I get home at the end of the day, my bag goes next to my desk. My phone goes in the same place and my AirPods immediately get put back in their case.
My wife, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Her bag goes wherever she drops it and her AirPods sometimes get out in the dining table, sometimes on her dressing tables and in the winter sometimes put in her coat’s pocket.
So the reality is, you need to build a system that works the way you work and to do that you need to understand how you work.
An example of this is I recommend you spend around ten minutes at the end of the day processing all the stuff you have collected that day in your inbox and planning what you will prioritise tomorrow. In most people’s cases that work very well yet, I have a number of clients who wake up early and find doing their processing and planning early in the morning.
Now, processing and planning are important if you are going to get control of your day. Without a plan, the day will grab control of you and your time and you will feel very busy but achieve very little of importance.
So there is a great starting point. When will you do your planning? Morning or evening?
Pick one. Then schedule it. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes for processing. Of course, the goal is to get that down to ten minutes (hence the phrase I use “The Golden 10”) but in the early days of your journey, it will take a little longer.
Once you have a set time each day to process and plan you are really 50% of the way to having a great system.
Now, for the other 50%.
This is really dominated by collecting. If you are not collecting everything that comes your way, you will have nothing to organise at the end of the day and if you have nothing to organise you will have nothing to plan for. So collecting needs to be done.
I’ve found this is an area a lot of people skip because they erroneously believe they will remember to do something. So they collect some things and not collect others.
The problem with not collecting everything is it only takes one drama for your brain to forget what it was you wanted to remember. For instance, you could be waiting to cross the road and remember you need to send something to your colleague in Frankfurt. As you are waiting, a friend you haven't seen for a long time taps you in the back and you then you engage in a short conversation ending with a promise to do lunch next week.
Now you have two things to remember, but you are so excited about catching up with your friend you completely forget about sending the file to your colleague in Frankfurt.
When you take those few seconds to collect your tasks, ideas and events you do not forget. You’ve collected them and those things can now be processed when you have time for processing later in the day.
So how do you get started? This is possibly the hardest part. The reason is that you need to stop fire fighting and for many people fire fighting is addictive. You feel you have to always be running around putting out fires and when you are not doing so, you feel incredibly uncomfortable.
You have to stop.
Now depending on how much backlog you have and how much important work you have neglected this will determine how much time you need. Typically, I find most people need at least one whole day, although it is not unheard of some requiring two or even three days to get themselves sorted out.
Often the GTD mind sweep is a great place to start, but I have found setting up a framework to collect and organise your stuff is a better place to start. After all, if you follow the concept of dumping everything on your mind into an in basket at the end of the process you have an in basket full of stuff and nowhere to organise it.
Selecting what tools you want and what storage you want to use, I feel is a better place to start. This way if the tools you select are new to you you can be learning to use those as you collect and organise - a sort of killing two birds with one stone. Part of a great system is you know how to use your tools properly and more importantly your use of them is fast.
Once you have the framework in place you need to gather all the stuff you have around you that needs doing. Go through your email, go through any inboxes you have for notes and go through any bits of paper you may have collected that have ideas, tasks or events on them. Get then all in the right place.
Set up your calendar to work for you too. Your calendar is the anchor that brings everything together. Your calendar is what tells you what needs to be done and when and how much time you have available each day for the work that needs doing. This helps you to get realistic about what you can achieve each day.
Okay, so you have taken the plunge. You put a stop to all your inputs for one day, you have a framework in place and you are ready to reopen the floodgates and allow stuff to restart. How do you get yourself to stick with your system?
Two words... self-discipline.
Yes, you are going to need a lot of it. You are going to have to install some new habits and to do that you will need self-discipline and, according to research, sixty-six days to install those habits. That is going to be hard. You are going to fall off the wagon and you are going to slip up on some days. But just because you fall off the wagon or you slip up occasionally, doesn't mean you don't get back up and carry on the journey. Getting back up and continuing is part of the process. We all slip up from time to time, but the important thing is you keep going.
Really, all you need to focus on is collecting and giving yourself ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day to organise what you collected and plan your day. Collecting is just something you do. Sure, you may have to remind yourself from time to time to collect something, but it does not take long to get into that habit. And as for finding those ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day for organising, well… If you can’t find ten to twenty minutes then you have bigger problems than productivity and time management. Schedule that time on your calendar. Pick a time at the end of the day and create a recurring event with a notification that comes up to remind you. When that notification comes up, stop what you are doing and begin organising and planning.
If you need to go back and finish off some work, that’s okay. The important thing is you have processed and you have a plan for the next day.
You see, the plan you have for the next day gives you your purpose. It prepares your mind for the work you plan to do and you give yourself a fighting chance of actually getting those important things done.
Now, for those of you who have not already done my FREE COD course, I highly recommend you take the course now. The course is just a basic introduction to COD (collect, organise and do) and it will give you a simple framework in which to build your own system. The forty minutes you take to do that course will save you a tonne of hours later and will help you to finally get you to a place you feel in control.
Thank you, Richard, for your question and that you all for listening. Don’t forget if you have a question then you can email at email@example.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.
So you work in a paper based office or work hybridly? Then this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast is just for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 82 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week, I've received a lot of questions about how to implement the COD system in a paper environment. Is it possible? Well, the answer is yes it is possible and today I will explain how to do it.
But before we get into the question if you are struggling with time management and productivity and don't have a system at all, then take forty minutes and do my FREE COD course.
It will give you the framework in which to create a system that works for you. COD is very flexible and as you will see today is not just designed for the digital world. You can use it in an analogue world too.
Details of how to enrol in the course are in the show notes.
Okay, on to this week’s question and that means it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Jerri and Janet. They ask: Hi Carl, we work in a largely paper-based work environment. How would you go about organising your work when you have to deal with paper and paper files?
Thank you, Jerri and Janet, for your questions.
At its very core COD is simple and incredibly flexible. It’s intentionally so because one size does not fit all and we all have different ways of organising and working. Many of us love to develop ideas with pen and paper, others prefer to collect everything into a digital system. And the truth is there are no right or wrong ways to do this. The only right way to do it is the way that works for you.
So, to implement COD in a paper-based way you first need to get yourself a notebook. Now you want to get a notebook that is robust and one you can carry with you wherever you go. This will become your to-do list manager.
Now just as an aside here, back in the days when I used a hybrid system, I carried a little pocket notebook with me. One with easy to tear off sheets. This I carried in my pocket whenever I couldn't carry my main notebook. I used it for those ‘just in case moments’. Times like when I was having lunch or dinner. This way I still had a way to collect everything no matter where I was or what I was doing.
Okay, so you have your notebook to manage all your to-dos, now where do you put all the incoming paper? Well, you will also need an in-basket. Now, your in-basket should be at your main workstation. If you work from an office and home, it might be a good idea to have two in-baskets. However, I never felt the need for two. Because I was collecting into a notebook I carried with me everywhere I went I just tore off the notes and put them into my in-basket at my home office when I was next there.
Now the notebook you are using for your to-do list manager is where you put your lists. All you really need is a master list and a daily list. Put everything on your master list and when you do the 2+8 prioritisation at the end of the day you can put tasks from master list to your daily list.
But again, how you organise your daily to-do list is entirely up to you - it has to work for you. But even wit paper, you can still operate the 2+8 Prioritisation system. Every evening, before you go to bed you open up your notebook, with the next day’s date at the top and start with your two objectives. Then leave a line space and write you eight focus tasks for the day—the eight tasks you really want to complete.
You can use the right-hand page for your notes for the day, observations and little reminders if you wish.
Okay, now for all your paper files.
For this, you will need a way to store all your project materials. The best way is to get yourself a filing cabinet, but that might be hard to do these days. Now when I was transitioning to a digital system I used a shelf on my bookcase next to my desk. I could see the names of the files clearly on the folders I used so it was always easy to access papers I needed.
The key with this system is to make sure once a project is completed or you no longer need the documents you were keeping you remove them. Either throw them away or archive them in a box somewhere. You do not want to get in that awful position of having a mix of completed and active projects all in the same place. You would just go numb to all the files you have in there.
Now your notes, use your notebook.
Again, you want to have your current notes with you at all times. Here all you need to do is start at the back of your notebook. Keep your daily lists at the front and your notes at the back. You can use post-it notes to separate projects and give you easy access to your notes. The thing here is not to have too many notebooks. I know a lot of people have different notebooks for different projects and that’s okay if it works for you. Personally, I never liked that idea, and so kept meeting notes and projects ideas at the back of my one current notebook.
One area I would not move to a digital system is my calendar. These days, airlines and other places you may make bookings will send you a calendar link that adds all the right information you need to your calendar. Likewise, when you use a digital calendar you can share calendars with family and friends. All you need to do is print off your calendar for the week after you have done your weekly review and fold it into your notebook. You can then add and delete events by hand.
One of my friends here in Korea, a very successful businessman and teacher, does this every week. Every Monday morning his assistant prints off his calendar for the week and he folds it into his little pocketbook. He can reference that paper anytime he wants to see where he needs to be and when. He is one person I’ve met who has never missed an appointment, so it must work.
Now speaking of printing things out, if you want to maintain some digital system and make things a little easier for your processing and storing, then remember almost all to-do list managers do give you the option to print out your daily list. Todoist, for example, can send you an email every morning with your daily list. It is organised beautifully and you can print that out. You can add new tasks, cross of tasks when you have done them or add a new date and update your system when you get back to your computer. This would actually be a great way for those of you who like using pen and paper. It allows you the ability to organise digitally but still maintain your daily task management in an analogue way.
In many ways, if you do print out your daily to-do list and carry that with you all day, crossing off completed tasks and adding new tasks to that one sheet of paper, it will give you a great way to review your day and plan the next. All you would need to do is give yourself the ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to sit down with your computer and update everything add and plan out your next day. Sounds almost idyllic to me.
Now, remember, while paper-based working still exists, the digital way is a lot more efficient and means you can have access to all your notes and files through the cloud. If you have a smartphone then you still have access to your Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud. So it is worth thinking about still maintaining your files in the cloud. Of course, there may still be documents that you need to retain hard copies of and for that you can create physical files. What you do need to do though is to make sure you are maintaining those files and keeping them current.
COD is very flexible. It is designed to be a framework that allows you to collect your tasks, ideas and events into a single place, give you time at the end of the day to organise those things you collected and focuses you on doing the work. How you collect and organise is up to you. All you need to do is find the best method for you. That can take a bit of experimenting, but it is worth it because once you do have a strong framework in place your effectiveness and efficiency improve and you become a lot less stressed and overwhelmed.
So there you go Jerri and Janet. I hope that has answered your question and given you some ideas about how to use COD with your paper-based working.
Thank you for your wonderful question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook.
It just remains for me know to wish you all a very very productive week.
Do you have difficulty completing projects? Then this week’s episode of the Working With… Podcast is just for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 81 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week, I have a question about a problem several years ago I had. That is being excellent at starting projects and having ideas, but terrible at seeing those projects through to completion. It took a lot of self-analysis and introspection to understand why I did that and to change my behaviours so I would start completing projects.
But, before we get into that, I'd just like to remind you all that I currently have a Spring Sale on where you can get my Your Digital Life 2.0 online course for just $65.00 and if you buy that course this week, I am throwing in From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days completely free.
When you add in the free access you get to my Email Mastery and Ultimate Goal Planning Course you get with Your Digital life 2.0 you are getting a package worth $240 for just $65.00.
I must be mad! So go on, get yourself enrolled today as this offer will end very very soon… Well, this week actually.
Okay onto this week’s question and means it’s time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Daniel. Daniel asks: Hi Carl, thank you for all the content you put out. Could you help me? I have hundreds of ideas and I collect all these into Evernote. But when I look at my list of ideas I realise that I am just not completing any of them. I think it is because I don't know where to start. Do you have any tips that might help?
Hi Daniel, thank you for your question.
I should congratulate you on actually collecting your ideas. Far too many people don't collect their ideas and just leave them in their heads only to see them disappear as soon as their attention is diverted and never surface again.
So what we need to do is see collecting and developing your ideas as part of a process. You need to give each idea some time to develop.
So, you collect an idea and while you are still buzzing about it you should take five or ten minutes to develop it. A one-line title in your notes app is not going to inspire you very much in a few days time. So take five minutes now and note down some thoughts to give your idea some context.
Let's say I have an idea for a new course. I will collect that idea in Evernote and then take a few minutes to jot down the purpose of the course and what I would expect students to learn from it. I would also probably write out a few lesson titles. I know saying that now sounds like quite a lot, but in reality, it is only a few lines.
Once I have a few lines expanding my idea I can leave it.
Often I will leave the idea for a few days. For me, if I cannot stop thinking about an idea and I keep adding to the note then I know it will become a project and I need to spend some time to really develop it.
For this purpose, I use a tag in Evernote called “Incubator”.
Now I should explain about my incubator. This is a tag in Evernote that has no more than ten notes in it. If I have additional ideas I can still collect them, but they can only go in my incubator if I move another note out.
This keeps my open, active, in development ideas to a maximum of ten. It also ensures that whatever is in there is still relevant.
Now the thing about ideas is they are only moving forward when you are working on them. It can be easy to collect your next billion-dollar idea in your notes but over time, if you don’t do anything with it, it soon disappears under all the other notes and stuff you collect. So you need to keep them utmost and foremost in your mind.
To do this you should make it a habit to review your ideas—those in your incubator—regularly. I look through my ideas every Wednesday and Sunday (when I do my weekly review) I choose Wednesday because by Wednesday I have usually finished creating the content I want to put out that week and I have time and mental space to think of new ideas.
Here, what you do is a quick scan. Does anything jump out at you? If it does, open up the note and set yourself 15 minutes or so and really dive deep thrashing out some concepts and ideas. Get them all written down add them to your idea.
Now, for most of you, there will be one idea that is consuming you more than others. Often when I have a new online course idea this will be constantly on my thoughts. Because the idea was collected into my Evernote inbox it is very easy to open up Evernote and see the note at the top of my notes list. I can then add additional ideas to the note as they come to me. Often by the time I reach my weekly review, the note has developed into a long list and that is a sure sign that this is a project worth taking to the next stage.
The opposite can happen too. Around this time last year, I had an idea to do a build your own Google productivity system. For a couple of days, I was really excited about it. I collected a lot of notes and decided to take it to the next stage and build a project out of it.
Now to build a project out of an idea what I do is allocate an hour of development time. Usually in the early morning when my brain is fresh and at it’s most creative. I go through my collected ideas and pull out all the next actions and list them at the bottom of the note. Once the obvious next action tasks are out, I will copy and paste them into Todoist as a project and allocate time on my calendar for doing those action steps.
As I was developing this project, I realised I didn't have enough knowledge of the Google productivity apps and when I investigated further I decided that I would need to learn a lot more than I had time to learn. So I abandoned the project. You see projects can be abandoned at any time. It best, of course, to abandon projects in their early stages, but for your personal projects that do not involve other people, you are free to abandon them at any time.
You see, you do need to be realistic, Daniel. There are a lot of considerations to take into account. For one do you have the actual time to do this project? How many other projects do you have going on at the moment? I’ve found if I have more than three active projects going on at any one time I am having to compromise on time to be able to allocate enough time to each one. That’s never a good thing.
One way to overcome this—If you can do it—is to allocate one project to focus on each week. Right now, I have all my focus on Time and Life Mastery 3, my biggest online course. I have not just allocated this week to this project, but I have given over the whole month. This means outside my regular work, producing this podcast, recording my YouTube videos and writing my blog posts, all other work time is being spent on that one project. I know that for me to get it planned out, recorded and edited so it can be ready for publishing next month, I have to focus completely on this project.
And that leads nicely to my next tip. That is set yourself a deadline. Of course, with your regular work projects, you may have a deadline imposed on you. But for your own personal projects, you get to control when you complete these. I often see people creating amazing projects and then calling them a “hobby project” which is just a get out clause so you don’t have to finish them. If you are serious about the project and it is something you really want to do, then set a deadline. The truth is without a deadline, you will never finish the project.
Okay, so there’s quite a lot in this week’s answer so let me summarise what you can do. The first step is to make sure you are collecting your ideas. Remember, if you decide later to abandon the idea, that’s fine. That’s far better than not collecting the idea in the first place.
Once you have collected the idea, the next stage is what I call the discovery stage. This is where you develop your idea, throw links and other support materials into the mix and be aware of your own limitations in knowledge and time. How long this takes is really up to you. Take as long as you need to really develop the idea.
Then leave it for a few days. Let your subconscious mind absorb everything and think about it. Then when you come back to it, you will either decide it’s not for you, or you will decide to move on with it. Moving on with it means going through the notes you have collected and pulling out all the next actions and moving them over to your to-do list manager as a project.
Then be realistic about your available time and choose the right time to begin working on your project.
The key is to really restrict what you work on at any one time. Keep an incubator file for no more than ten ideas at any one time. Less if you can. I used to keep 20 ideas in my incubator but soon found a lot of those ideas were not getting touched. That’s why I reduced it to ten. I sometimes think ten is too many, but for now, it works for me.
Finally, I would advise you have a someday / maybe folder somewhere. This could be in your to-do list manager or your notes app. Inside your someday/maybe folder you keep all your project ideas and other things you have ideas about and review this folder once every month or so looking for something you would like to work on next. This prevents you from losing your ideas and will always give you a feed of new projects to work on whenever you want to work on them.
I hope that answers your question, Daniel. Thank you for sending in your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget you too can have any of your productivity, time management or goal planning questions answered by emailing me—email@example.com or DMing me on Facebook or Twitter.
It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week.
Your calendar, probably the most powerful productivity tool you have in your toolbox. On this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to get the most out it.
Hello and welcome to episode 80 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week’s episode is all about the humble calendar. They’ve been around for a very long time is one form or another and because of their simplicity have helped millions of people through the ages to schedule their work and to create amazing things.
Before I get in to this week’s question, though, I wanted to give you a heads up to a couple of very special offers I have on at the moment, not only do I have my Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life course at 50% off, I also have a Spring Special on where you can get two courses for the price of one. Yes, you can get From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days for FREE when you buy Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s a value of over $240 for just $65.00.
That 2 for 1 offer is on for a limited time only so hurry. Remember, with all my courses once you are enrolled you are enrolled for life and will get all future updates for free. All the details are in this week’s show notes
Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Sanjid. Sanjid asks: Carl, I really struggle to know how to use my calendar. I use a to-do list manager and I don’t know what I should be putting on my calendar and what to put on my to-do list. Can you help clarify things for me?
Hi Sanjid, thank you for your question. It’s a very valid question and what to put on a calendar and what to put on a to-do list can cause quite a lot of confusion at times.
Before we go into the specifics lets take a step back and look at how not just your calendar and to-do list should work but also your notes as well.
We have three basic tools in our productivity armoury these days. The calendar, to-do list manager and your notes app. All three have a specific job to do. In a very basic way, your calendar tells you where you need to be and with who on what day and time. Your to-do list tells you what tasks you need to perform on a specific day or within a specific project and your notes is where you keep all your ideas, meeting notes and other similar reference materials.
Now a good productivity habit is to keep a hard edge between these three tools. What that means is you do not duplicate. When you keep a clean edge between these tools you don’t need to have tasks in your calendar or events in your to-do list.
What should happen is you look at your calendar and see what meetings and appointments you have and where you need to be, and then look at your to-do list manager to see what tasks you can complete in between those meetings and appointments or if there is anything you need to do at a particular location.
For example, Let’s say you start the day and look at your calendar. Your calendar tells you you have a meeting with your boss at 9:30am at your office. You can then go to your to-do list manager and pull up your tag or label for your boss and see what actions you have that relate to your boss. During the meeting, you would take notes into your notes app, and after the meeting transfer any tasks to your to-do list manager—and that should not take you more than a few minutes.
That’s essentially how everything should work.
The whole point of keeping these tools separate is to avoid overwhelm and a confusing mess. I’ve seen people try and keep their tasks and appointments in a calendar or trying to keep everything in a hybrid calendar, task list and notes manager and in almost every case it has ended in tears. You end up with things all over the place and in today’s world of massive distractions, it becomes incredibly easy to miss something important. When that happens you lose trust in your whole system and then things become worse because you no longer collect everything.
Your calendar is also your best planning tool. When you use your calendar properly—for events—you can see what your future days look like. You will know when you have a forthcoming business trip or workshop and on those days you can remove all but the essential tasks from your task list. You know you will not have much time to do tasks on those days because you need to be fully engaged in your workshop or you will be involved in back to back meetings. On those days you switch into what I like to call “collection mode”. This is where you are not completing tasks, instead, you are just collecting.
It also means you can plan ahead. Let’s say you have an offsite two-day workshop on Wednesday and Thursday next week and you have an important project update to present on the following Friday morning. When you have the workshop and the presentation scheduled in your calendar, you will see that and know immediately that you need to get the presentation completed by Tuesday at the latest leaving you only needing to practice your presentation on Thursday evening or early Friday morning. Alternatively, you may see the workshop and presentation and decide to request a postponement of the presentation to the following week. Without that kind of alert, you are going to be worrying about preparing the presentation while you are doing the workshop which means you will not be able able to fully engage with the workshop and so not get the full benefit of what you are learning.
In my experience workshops and business trips are often planned quite far into the future. I know, for example, I have a workshop in Singapore in September, which is four months away. At the moment, I do not need to do anything about it, but as it is a four-day workshop I will need to arrange hotel accommodation and, of course, my flights to and from Singapore. The event is scheduled in my calendar as an all-day event which prevents me from double booking myself, and I have a project for the workshop in my to-do list manager that will tell me to organise my flights and hotel accommodation on the 1st July—two months before the event.
And that is a good example of a to-do list and a calendar working together. My calendar is telling where I will be, and my to-do list manager tells me what I need to do.
Of course, there will be other tasks associated with the workshop. I will need to arrange to cancel any classes I have on the days I am in Singapore and I will need to block the dates on my client scheduling system so I do not double book myself. All these are tasks and are in my to-do list manager. They are tasks, not events.
And that is the clear blue water between your calendar and your to-do list manager. Tasks go on your to-do list, events go on your calendar.
What you want to develop is a calendar that allows you to quickly see what you have on, and where you will be on a particular day so you can make granular decisions about what tasks you will do on those days.
When you put everything on your calendar—tasks and events—it becomes incredibly difficult to see at a glance what you need to do. When something looks full and busy you will resist looking at it and when you do look at it you will feel overwhelmed and things will get missed.
Now there is another area where your calendar can help you and that is with doing focused work. I’ve found, psychologically, that when I schedule a period of writing time on my calendar I am much less likely to resist doing it. I have a recurring task on my calendar every Monday morning for writing. Now, generally I will write my weekly blog post at that time, but occasionally, I have something else that needs writing that is important. Because I use the general term “writing time” on my calendar, I get to choose what I write. Likewise, I have time blocked out on a Friday afternoon for recording my YouTube videos. My calendar does not have anything specific, just “video recording time”. That way I know I will have a three-hour block to record videos. If I need to record anything specific it will be in my to-do list manager and that task will come up on Friday so I know I have something specific to record.
This all means that when I look at my calendar either the night before or when I am doing a weekly review I get to see the blocks of times I have allocated for the work I have to do and I get to see where I have gaps for doing errands or other unscheduled work that comes up such as phone calls, sorting out student issues or just to take some time out and get some fresh air.
Finally, a tip for those of you struggling to fit in your hobbies, side projects or exercise to your week. Schedule the time in your calendar. Every Sunday afternoon when I do my weekly review I schedule out my exercise for the week. I like to exercise five times a week and exercise is an important part of my life. So it gets scheduled. I can look at my calendar and see what I have on and where I need to be and then fit in my exercise time. Again, once it is on my calendar it becomes much more difficult to find an excuse not to exercise. It also helps me to prepare mentally for it and to decide—based on how I feel on the day—what kind of exercise I will do.
So there you go, Sanjit. I hope that has helped you and given you some ideas on how best to use your calendar. Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer on this podcast, all you have to do is get in touch either by email or by DMing me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes.
It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week.