The Working With… Podcast
How to Use Your Calendar Properly

How to Use Your Calendar Properly

May 13, 2019

Podcast 80

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.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life Course

Why I quit law and went in to teaching video

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2 for 1 Spring Sale

Script

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. 

 

How To Stop Feeling You Have To Do More.

How To Stop Feeling You Have To Do More.

May 6, 2019

Podcast 80

Do you have this nagging feeling you are not doing enough and feel you need to do more? That’s the topic I am answering this week in the Working With Podcast

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life Course

Why I quit law and went into teaching video

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2019 Edition of Your Digital Life 2.0 

Script

Hello and welcome to episode 79 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.

In this week’s episode, it’s all about that annoying feeling we all get from time to time where no matter how much we do each day we still feel we haven’t done enough and our brain is telling us we should be doing more. Today, I’ll explain how you can quieten down this voice. 

But, before we get into this week’s question I have some very exciting news for you all. My Complete Guide To Building a Successful Life course is 50% lower this month. This course was inspired by my journey from training to be a lawyer and discovering I had made a mistake and what I did to change my life and my career and end up doing something I love doing every single day. 

So, if you feel unhappy with where you are today and want to make some big changes in your life then this course is definitely for you. I don’t often promote this course so this is a great opportunity for you to get yourself enrolled now and starting learning how to turn around your life so you can start doing what you love doing. Full details are in the show notes together with a video about my story and why I passionately believe anyone can turn things around whatever your current situation. 

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 Tony. Tony asks, Hi Carl could you do a podcast on the feeling of needing to do more - I eat the big frogs, do a bunch of other stuff and still feel I need to do, do, do even if the tasks aren’t critical or important must do that day tasks.

Great question, Tony. First off, I should confess. I used to have this problem too. It was most noticeable when I began getting up earlier and doing all my writing and creative tasks before 9AM. Although I was still doing ten hours or so of work each day, because I was getting my work done by two or three PM in the afternoon I felt I had not done enough and felt I should do more. It was an unpleasant feeling. It left me feeling guilty. 

In the end I came up with a simple solution. I knew I was doing a lot of work, yet my feeling was I wasn’t. So I began writing in my journal exactly what I had done that day. So, for example, if I wrote my blog post, as soon as it was written I would take twenty seconds and write that in my journal. That went for anything I did that was not immediately noticeable. Of course, teaching a class or attending a meeting was in my calendar, but a lot of my work is done on a computer and so it is not immediately obvious what I had done. By writing a list of what I had done I could see as the day progressed the list getting bigger and bigger and if I ever felt I had not done enough all I had to do was take a look at my journal and see a long list of things I had done. 

That solved the problem for me and it is still something I do today. 

However, I think this goes a little deeper. One of the reasons I started doing the 2+8 Prioritisation system was because I wanted to make sure the important things were getting done each day. One of the reasons we feel we are not doing enough is because it is true. We’re NOT doing enough. Enough of the important things that is. It is very easy to lose control of the day and end up running around reacting to other people’s priorities and issues leaving the work that is important to us undone. When we get to the end of the day and we think about what we have done for the day we feel we have done nothing. And that’s because we haven’t moved anything forward that important to us. 

The 2+8 Prioritisation technique solves this because it gives you a total of ten tasks that you identify are important to you. Two of which are critical MUST DO objective tasks. This then gives you a focus for the day and still allows you enough flexibility to manage other people’s issues as they arise. 

What happens when you practice the 2+8 Prioritisation technique is you get to choose what you work on each day. The night before, you sit down with your list of work that needs doing and identify what tasks would have the biggest impact on your projects and goals. Pick ten of those and make it a priority to complete them all. No excuses. When you do complete them you know you’ve had a productive day and you have done enough. Of course, if you have time and you still have enough energy, then you can go into your next actions list and start completing some of those tasks. But, the important thing is you are doing the ten tasks you decided were important to complete that day and you do whatever it takes to complete them. 

Sometimes I think we are a little hard on ourselves. We are not machines. We are human beings. There are days we get plenty of sleep, wake up the next day and feel fantastic! And there are days we don’t get enough sleep or we wake up with a bad cold or in a bad mood and our energy is very low. That’s natural and is just something we have to deal with on a day to day basis. A lot of the time it is really just about doing whatever you can based on your feeling and mood that day. Hopefully, you have more good days that bad. 

This is really why it is important that you take care of your health. Eat healthily, get enough sleep and exercise. If you really want to be performing at your best every day and getting all the things that are important to you done, then these are important things that should be put on your calendar. There’s a reason why super successful people like Tim Cook, Sir Richard Branson and Jack Dorsey exercise every day. They understand that to perform at their very best they have to take care of their health and well-being. You get a lot more done, you feel good and it gives you a routine every day that encourages great work and more consistent moods and energy levels. 

With all that said, the biggest change you could make, Tony, is you make sure every day you have a plan. Plan out what you want to accomplish for the day and when done making the plan tell yourself if you complete all those ten tasks (not including your regular routine tasks) you will have had a very productive day. 

Now don’t be greedy and give yourself too many tasks. I spent years figuring out that all you need is ten important tasks per day to move all the right things forward. When you start being greedy and plan fifteen to twenty tasks a day you are going to find yourself rescheduling a lot of tasks and that will make you feel you are not doing enough. Be realistic and stick to ten tasks. You ARE going to be interrupted and you ARE going to be dragged off into other people’s crises. That’s just a part of life. 

One of the things I remind myself of regularly is that Rome was not built in a day and that all great work takes time. Doing a little every day soon builds up and that’s how you complete big projects, it how skyscrapers are built, it’s how books are written and how, in my case, online courses are made. They are not made in a day and you need to understand that doing a little every day will take you towards the finish line on almost every thing you decide to do—eventually. 

One final tip is to make sure you focus on one thing at a time. I know I have just said doing a little each day soon creates a finished project, another reason you may be feeling you are not doing enough is because you are doing too much on too many things at once. This is something I used to do. I used to have multiple projects ongoing at one time and this meant the time I spent on each was very small. This left me feeling I wasn’t doing enough. To change that I realised I needed to focus on less each month. These days I practice a system where I am working on one big project every six weeks. I know most big projects will take no more than six weeks to complete and so I only have one big project ongoing at any one time. This means I can focus all my energies on that project. 

That doesn’t mean I am not doing anything else, I am still doing all my regular content, but it also means in between doing that work, I am working on that one project. It helps me stay focused on the important things and I know that something special will be finished every six weeks. 

Now for this to work you do need to plan ahead a little. I planned out my whole year with a particular focus in the first two or three projects at the beginning of the year. I left the second half of the year flexible because I know things and situations change over time. But I do still have a list of projects I want to complete this year and each quarter I review my list and decide which two projects I will work on in the next quarter. 

At the end of the day, it all comes down to having a realistic plan for the day and making sure you have enough flexibility built in to handle other stuff that WILL come up. Then giving yourself credit and knowing that if you do complete your plan for the day you will have had a productive day. 

So, Tony, don’t be too hard on yourself. Make sure you complete your 2+8 Priority tasks each day and know that as long as you complete these you will have had a VERY productive day. 

Thank you for your question and thank you all 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. 

 

Why Checklists Should Form The Core Of Your Productivity

Why Checklists Should Form The Core Of Your Productivity

April 29, 2019

Podcast 78

This week’s episode is a special episode and is all about making sure you achieve the things you want to achieve each day.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Checklist Manifesto Book

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2019 Edition of Your Digital Life 2.0 

Script

Hello and welcome to episode 78 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, in a slight change to the usual format I want to give you some tips on maintaining your focus on what is important to you.

I’ve recently finished reading The Checklist Manifesto by Dr Atul Gawande, a physician from the US. It’s a brilliant book and I highly recommend it. (I’ve put a link to the book in the show notes) 

In the book, Dr Gawande talks about how in almost every complex business from complex construction projects, to flying aircraft you will find a checklist. Now as those of you listening to this podcast are likely to be interested in becoming better organised and more productive as well learning how to achieve the goals you set for yourself I realised as I was reading that we can apply the ideas in this book to keep us focused on what is important to us.

As I was reading the book, I was thinking about how I could apply these ideas to my own system and I began to formulate an idea around a morning and evening checklist. Not a routine, but a checklist to make sure I was doing all the important things I needed to do to ensure I have the best day possible. After all, to achieve your goals, to be happy and to perform at your very best every day all you need to do is apply some daily actions consistently. After all, to improve your golf game requires consistent practice - you are not going to get your handicap down if you only practice or play once or twice a year. If you are serious about becoming better at golf you have to practice much more frequently. 

Now the key to a good checklist, according to the book, is it needs to be short and very clear. You’d be surprised how short a pre-flight checklist for a commercial airliner is. Just google it and you’ll see. The idea is you only need to check the vital things. The things that matter most and if you did not do them there could be a catastrophic failure. 

So as I began thinking about this I realised there are a number of things I need to do each day that would give me the best day possible. The first is my morning routine of 30 minutes of Korean study, 15 minutes planning and review and 15 minutes meditation. These three parts of my morning routine, when done, always puts me in the right frame of mind to tackle the day with positivity and energy. It sets me up for a great day. 

So for a morning checklist, I need to add “Have I done my morning rituals?”

Next up is the make sure I have all the right materials with me for the classes I am teaching in the morning. Now I operate a paperless system for my teaching materials and keep all documents in Notability. So I need to check that the right materials are in my Notability app on my iPad. So, next up on my morning checklist goes “are all teaching materials downloaded onto my iPad?” 

Another check I put on my morning checklist is “Have I planned today’s exercise?” I’ve found if I plan my exercise for the day in the morning I am much more likely to make sure it is done. If I don’t plan it in the morning I either waste valuable time thinking about what to do or I find an excuse not to do it. 

The final check on my morning checklist is “have I given Barney his medicine?” Although I rarely forget this, I know it is possible if something urgent was on my mind, so it is something I need to make sure I have done. 

And that’s really all I would need to put on my morning checklist. Just four things:

Have I done my morning rituals?

Are all teaching materials downloaded onto my iPad?

Have I planned my exercise for today?

Have I given Barney his medicine?

However, the evening checklist is quite different. This one sets up the day for a great day much more so than my morning checklist. This is about avoiding those little annoyances we all get from time to time. Things like leaving the house and your phone only has 10% charge left. Or getting halfway to your place of work and discovering you left an important document at home. Things that with a little thought, and a checklist, can be avoided.

For my evening checklist I have the following:

Is my phone fully charged?

Does my iPad need charging?

Do I need to take my laptop with me tomorrow? 

Is there anything else I will need with me tomorrow? 

Now those four are the next day set up checks. After that, I have another list to make sure I have done all the things I know I need to do to complete my day. Things like:

Have I completed all my admin for the day?

Is all feedback written up and sent?

Did I do my exercise for the day? (If not why not?) 

Have I given Barney his evening medicine?

Is there anything I need to add to the shopping list? 

Have I written my journal?

Have I done something to move closer towards achieving my goals?

And that’s it. I discovered that all I need is 15 checks for the day to be a great day. 

Now for this to work I need to make sure I am completing these checks every day. It does not take long to go through each checklist either. The morning checklist takes 35 seconds and the evening one takes just over a minute. So for less than a 2-minute daily commitment, I can set up each day to be a fantastic day. 

Of course, I know I have to do the tasks themselves. Each one takes a different amount of time. My morning rituals, for example, take an hour, exercise also takes an hour and so does my daily admin tasks. But the checklists are there to make sure I am doing the things that are important to me and to ensure that I am moving forward each day on the things I have identified I want to achieve. 

Now the next step is to date the checklist. Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, has a whole department dedicated to creating checklists for their planes and each checklist is dated before publication. The reason for the date is to ensure that old and out of date checklists are not being used. Obviously, a good reason as planes are being updated all the time. By dating your checklists you can make sure that they are always up to date. Your life will change, new priorities will come along and old priorities will fall away. Regularly reviewing your checklists to make sure they are current will stop you from going numb to them. 

You can then start adding other checklists to a checklist folder too. For example, create a checklist for your weekly review, a checklist for presentation preparation and a travel checklist. I have had a presentation checklist for years because I’ve always used a MacBook and in Korea, we live in a PC world. I need to make sure I have all the right cables and adapters with me. That checklist has saved me so many times because I have moved a cable or adapter from my bag and discovered it wasn’t where it should be when I did my check.

The final piece of this system is to create a folder or tag in your notes app to keep your checklists. I did think about keeping them in my to-do list manager, but then all these checks would just fill up my to-do list manager and it would become very messy indeed. 

Instead, I created a notebook in Evernote for all my checklists. I will be creating more over the coming weeks. 

For airlines, there are the standard pre-flight checklists they use for every flight made, there are also checklists for pre-taxi and for landing the plane. These are now digital and come up on the flight screens in the cockpit. 

However, they also have a whole book of checklists for different situations that may occur during the flight. Those are fortunately rarely used, but if they are needed they are kept in a book next to the pilot. and as with the checklists on a plane where there is a book (or iPad) full of them in an easily accessible place for the pilots to pull out when they need them, I want to have a place in Evernote where I can easily pull up the relevant checklist whenever I need them. Evernote seems to me the best place for these. 

Evernote allows me to link the checklist to a note in my To-do list, so all I need is a linked task set to repeat every day which says “Do start of day checklist” and a repeating task for the evening which says “Do end of day checklist”. As the checklists take around a minute at most to complete doing these tasks will not prove to be burdensome. 

It also means all I need to do is create a linked task for any travel projects I have for my travel checklist as well as any other checklists I create over the next few weeks. 

In our effort to stay productive, have more time to do the things we want to do and achieve the goals we set for ourselves, the humble checklist is something that could push you towards achieving all those things. They are simple, they work and have been used for years to great success. All you need to do is keep them as short as you possibly can, make sure what you write is simple and clear and most of all you use them when you need to use them. 

 

How To Start Achieving Your Goals

How To Start Achieving Your Goals

April 22, 2019

Podcast 77

In this week’s episode of the working with Podcast I answer a question about getting clear about your goals.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2019 Edition of Your Digital Life 2.0 

Script

Hello and welcome to episode 77 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 wonderful question about really getting clear about your goals so the next steps become obvious.

Before we get into this week’s question, I would like to let you know I have taken 25% off my Email Mastery online course. I know many of you really struggle to get your email under control and even when you do finally achieve the fabled inbox zero, within a few minutes your inbox is filling up again. 

This course will give you the tactics and know-how to get your email under control and to keep it that way with only a little daily maintenance. You were not employed to spend all your days answering email, and you don’t have to. 

Take the Email Mastery course and finally get away from having to deal with overloaded inboxes forever.

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

This week’s question comes from Stephen. Stephen asks Carl I am really struggling to get started with my goals. I know what I want to do, but I am finding it really hard to get started. Do you have any tips that might help?

Thank you, Stephen, for your question. 

Now, goals are a very interesting thing to me. I was very fortunate when I was a teenager to be a track and field runner. I was lucky because I had some great coaches and at the end of every season I would sit down with my coach and discuss the season just finished. Look at my best times for the year and make a decision about what times I wanted to achieve next season and what races I wanted to do well in. 

I remember well the end of the 1984 season when I finished with personal records of 2 minutes and 6 seconds for the 800 metres and 4 minutes 16 seconds for the 1,500 metres. My coach and I decided that 1985 would be the season I would break 2 minutes for the 800 and 4 minutes for the 1,500. 

We then put together a winter training programme that would build my strength and head in to the spring training season where we would work on speed endurance training to get my fitness and strength up to the level so I could break those barriers. 

That focus on a specific outcome—breaking 2 minutes and 4 minutes—was simple. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve and it had a time line—by the end of September 1985—this meant that throughout the winter of 1984/85 I was focused on one goal - achieving what I called “the double sub”. 

And that’s how you need to be to achieve your goals too. What’s the outcome and what do I need to do to achieve that outcome in a specific period of time. 

Too often goals are too vague. Goals such as to loose weight, to run a faster 10k time or to get a promotion. These goals are not specific enough. How much weight do you want to lose and by when? What time do you want to run the 10K? Under 1 hour? What position do you want to be promoted to? It’s this kind of specific you need to get to. 

Let’s take the promotion goal. I get this one quite a lot with my language students. I will ask a student what do you want to improve your English? And the reply is usually “So I can get a promotion”. Okay, so I’ve established that improving English is not the real goal here. Improving English is just a part of a bigger goal. When I ask the student what position do you want to be promoted to, they often don’t know. They are just thinking in terms of the next step up.

You see this does not work. The next step up is not ambitious enough for you to get truly motivated. Basically, if you do a reasonable job at your current level and don’t make too many mistakes, you will eventually get that promotion. And deep down you know that. 

What you need to be doing is thinking much farther ahead. Where do you really want to end up? What position do you want to be in in 10 years time? Let’s say you are a junior finance administrator at your company today, but in ten years you want to be CFO. Great now that’s a fantastic goal to go for. 

Okay, so what do you need to become the CFO of your company? If you don’t already have it, perhaps a degree in accountancy, Your CPA qualifications, maybe an MBA. And that’s just the academic qualifications. What about the skills you will need. Leadership, strategic planning, management etc. There’s a lot to figure out. 

So let’s look again at Stephen’s question. How do you get started once you know what you want to achieve. 

The first thing to do is to create a time line to success. Create a simple line across a piece of paper and on the right hand side write 2019. At the other end of the line write 2029. So now you have a line that represents ten years. 

Now on that timeline write out what you have to do to achieve the position of CFO by 2029. Mark years off along the way. For example, by the end of 2020, you will have completed your degree in accountancy. Great. What do you need to do next? Perhaps get your CPA qualifications. Okay, get that on your timeline. Keep going until you have completed everything you decided needed to be done to achieve the CFO position. 

Now, as we are currently in 2019, you need to expand on whatever needs to be achieved this year. If you really are just starting out, you may need to find a university to study your accountancy degree. You will need to apply to that university. You may need to decide whether to study full or part-time. A lot of decisions to make. These need to be made into a project and added to your to-do list manager. 

There are no shortcuts. There’s a lot of decisions to be made and a big goal like becoming your company’s CFO in ten years time will need breaking down into it’s component parts. Beginning the year by asking yourself what do I have to accomplish this year that will take me a step closer to becoming the CFO? That’s where you start. Apply to universities to get enrolled into an accountancy course. Commit sufficient time each day / week to your studies and focus on completing that step. Once you have your degree, move on to the next step and keep going. Review, evaluate where to go next and get moving. 

To achieve your big goals needs a lot of patience, action, consistency and time. (PACT) but before you get to building on these cornerstones you need to have a plan in place on a timeline. You need to know the steps to get there. Once you know the steps, you can then take the first step, break it down in to actionable tasks to perform so you have a place to start. 

Back to my running story, because I had a very simple goal, that I gave a nickname to “The Double Sub” all that winter I trained very hard. I came in to the spring stronger, leaner and determined to hit my goal. By the end of June, I had run 1 minute 54 for the 800 and 4 minutes 3 seconds for the 1500. I was so close, and that gave me the determination to give it one more push. I worked so hard in July to improve my speed endurance so I could get under that elusive 4 minutes and at the end of July, I ran 3.58.9. By the end of the season, my times stood at 1.54.2 for the 800 and 3.54.8 for the 1500. 

For me, the lesson I learnt in 1984 and 1985 has stayed with me ever since. All goals are achievable if you make them simple, clear and are determined enough to achieve them. As long as you stay focused on them, are will to do the work necessary to achieve them and are prepared to push that extra mile to get there you will get there. 

But it always starts with that first step. You will achieve nothing unless you are willing to take that first step. Cemeteries are full of people with unrealised dreams and goals because they never took that first step. They never established what the first task was and they never went that extra mile to make it happen. Don’t let that happen to you. Do the planning, create the time line and take the necessary action to make it happen. 

This is where your to-do list comes in. Once you have done your planning, you need to take the first part of your goal and make it a project in your to-do list manager. Then create recurring tasks that will take you closer towards achieving the goal for the year. If you want to break 1 hour for a 10k make sure you have your daily training in your to-do list manager. If you want to finish your degree in accountancy, make sure you have your reading and studying tasks in your to-do list manager. Break everything down into daily tasks and make sure they are coming up on your daily to-do list every day. Only by taking action consistency over a period of time will you get to where you want to go. 

I hope that has answered your question, Stephen. I know so many people really struggle with setting and achieving goals, but as I say, when you use a simple piece of paper and draw out a timeline, then turn you goals into small, daily activities, you will amaze yourself about what you can achieve. 

Good luck and thank you.

Thank you also to all of you for listening and don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, then get in touch either by email or by DMing on Facebook or Twitter. 

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

 

How To Get Started Once You Have Your Productivity System In Place

How To Get Started Once You Have Your Productivity System In Place

April 15, 2019

Podcast 77

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

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The March Madness Sale Website

Life And Time Mastery Workshop, Scunthorpe. UK.

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2019 Edition of Your Digital Life 2.0 

Script

Hello and welcome to episode 76 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

A quick reminder for all you in the UK: this week, on Saturday (20th April) I will be co-hosting a FREE life and Time Mastery Workshop in Scunthorpe. It’s an all-day workshop where Kevin Blackburn and I will be sharing with you some great tips and tricks to develop and achieve your goals using tried and tested techniques. All the details are on my website. It would be fantastic to be able to meet you. So get yourself registered. Registration will be closing in the next 24 hours or so, so don’t delay. 

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

This week’s question comes from Alex. Alex asks: Hi Carl, I’ve been following GTD and your COD system for some time now, but still feel Stressed out about everything I have to do. Is there something I am missing?

Great question Alex. This is something I have been writing about recently and that is moving to a higher state of organisation and productivity. 

You see, having all your tasks, events, ideas and notes perfectly organised, is one thing. It's a very important one thing, but it is just the start. To move to the next level, so to speak, is to be in a state where no matter how much you have to do, you are completely comfortable doing what you are doing right now. 

A mistake I see a lot of people making is not making any decision about what it is they have collected. Let’s say your boss asks you to develop some ideas for a sales campaign next month. So you collect the task and write “develop some ideas for sales campaign next month”. 

Now that’s a good start, a clearly written task. Then what they do is either create a project or move that task to an area of focus and then move on to the next task they collected. 

 Here's the problem. You’ve not made a decision on that task. What happens next? What exactly do you have to do to make that task complete? How will you present your sales campaign ideas to your boss? Will you send them a written document or will you be presenting your ideas? When will you develop those ideas? These are the micro decisions that need to happen to get this task completely off your mind. Knowing exactly what you need to do next and when you are going to allocate time to do it. 

These undecided tasks are what, in GTD speak, are called open loops. Sure you collected the task and got it into your system, but as there is no decision made on it about what needs to happen next and when then you are not going to be able to completely let go of it in your mind. 

If you have a lot of tasks in your system like that—tasks that have no next action or decisions made on them—you are still going to feel overwhelmed and busy. Your brain is not going to trust that you have them externalised properly. 

Now it’s okay to not make a decision on something. That in itself is a decision, but you still need to decide when you are going to review it. Let's say you receive an invitation to a party in 6 months time but you are not sure if you will able to go or not. Making a decision not to make a decision until 3 months before the event is a decision. Add a task “decide whether to go to Derek’s party or not” and date it for three months later is fine. You have decided to postpone a decision. Now that will be off your mind because you know you are going to come back to it in 3 months time. 

In three months if you still are not sure, just change the review date and review it again later. There is nothing wrong with rescheduling decisions like this. You have made a conscious decision not to make a decision right now and that is a decision. 

Another reason for not feeling completely at ease with what you have to do is you have not done a complete mind-dump (again, another GTD phrase) what this means is you have got everything on your mind out of your mind and into your system. 

I’ve found with my coaching clients when they do an initial mind-dump they get around 75% of what’s on their mind out, but there’s still 25% lurking in there somewhere. It can take a few days to get everything out. This is why I recommend you take a piece of paper or a cheap notebook and carry it around with you for a few days. Things you need to do or remember will come at you from all places and you can quickly get them down onto the paper and then later, get them into your system. These ‘hard to reach’ tasks, events and ideas come eventually. When they do you can make the necessary decisions about what you want to do with them. Again, it may be you don’t want to do anything with them yet and that’s okay. Put them in a folder called “Someday | Maybe” and make a decision about when you will review them.

I review my Someday | Maybe folder every three months. Nothing in there is urgent or current. When I do review the folder, I find I delete off a lot of projects and ideas which is a great way to keep this folder from overflowing with stuff you are never likely to do anyway. Again, be comfortable deleting these “never going to do” tasks and ideas. If you do find the idea or task comes back to you, then you can always add it again. That’s something that very rarely happens for me, but does happen from time to time. 

Another reason for not feeling completely relaxed about everything is although you have everything in your system, your system is not organised in a way that works for you. This usually occurs because you have tried to copy someone else’s organisation system. I used to do that. I would read a great new way to organise my notes using a combination of notebooks and tags and then after spending several days reorganising everything I found I could not find anything I wanted to find. 

Eventually, the penny dropped and I realised I had to work out for myself how I would naturally look for something. This can be hard because we have picked up filing and organisation systems in the various jobs we have done in the past. My first experience in an office, for example, used a simple alphabetical filing system using folders and filing cabinets. I soon discovered this was my natural way for organising things. Alphabetically. So that is how I have all my notes organised. I created a digital filing cabinet system in Evernote using alphabetically organised tags and I’ve never had a problem finding anything since. It’s incredibly simple—embarrassingly so—but it’s also very effective. It also means when I process my notes inbox I can process very quickly because my brain is using its natural filing methodology. 

Be careful about copying other people’s system. It’s a great way to get new ideas and to breathe new life into a tired and uninspiring system, but if your system is boring it usually means its’ working because you don’t have to think about it. When you don’t have to think about your system you have reached a very high level of organisation. Things just get collected, organised and done. Exactly what you are wanting to achieve. 

Finally, trusting your system in a key part of reducing stress and overwhelm. If you don’t trust that you have collected everything that matters to you, or you don’t trust your to-do list is showing you everything you need to see on the right day, then you are going to feel stressed. Trust is not something you will get immediately either. It is only through continued use and practice that trust will develop. It can take anywhere between a couple of weeks to several months to finally get to the point where you know what you see on your daily to-do list and on your calendar is exactly what you need to see. Don’t despair. Be patient. It does come eventually. Stick with one system, modify where you feel it does not work and make sure you learn how to use your chosen tools properly. 

Find apps that work for you. If you are a visual person and you like to see projects and areas of focus arranged in cards, then apps like Asana and Trello might be the best tools for you. If you like to see things more linearly then apps like Todoist are likely to work better for you. Give yourself permission to experiment. It is important that the tools you use work best for you. But… Once you have made your decision, stick with it. Only change apps if, after a few months, they really don’t work for you. Changing apps every few weeks will destroy your trust and takes up a lot of time having to take stuff from your existing system and move it over to your new system. 

So there you go, Alex. I hope that has helped and given you a few ideas about how you get yourself to the next level of productivity. It’s a great level to achieve because when you know you have everything decided upon and it is organised in a way you can find quickly and you trust your system you will feel a huge sense of relief and that overwhelm and stress you fee will disappear. 

Thank you all for listening and I hope to see many of you in Scunthorpe on Saturday at the Life and Time Mastery Workshop. 

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

 

How To Get Started on Your Productivity Journey

How To Get Started on Your Productivity Journey

April 8, 2019

Podcast 76

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting started once you have created your system.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The March Madness Sale Website

Life And Time Mastery Workshop, Scunthorpe. UK.

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2019 Edition of Your Digital Life 2.0 

Script

Hello and welcome to episode 76 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have an excellent question about actually getting started once you have a system in place. I know I produce a lot of content that concerns setting up a system, but there’s not a great deal of content out there about actually getting started once you have a system in place. So I will change that this week. 

The answer to this question will also help you if you have fallen off the wagon, so to speak, and will help you get back on and get started again. We all fall off from time to time and so having a few strategies that allow you to get back when it does happen is always a good idea. 

Don’t forget if you have taken my FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD system course you get a huge discount on the 2019 Your Digital Life course. Details of the discount are in the COD course. Your Digital Life takes you to the next level by showing exactly how to build your goals, projects and routines into daily activities so nothing gets missed. AND… You also get a FREE workbook, a FREE copy of Your Digital Life 2.0 book as well as FREE access to my Email Productivity and Ultimate Goal Planning courses. That’s excellent value for money, it’s almost like giving away a whole productivity course. Details of both courses are in the show notes.

Okay, onto this week’s question and so it is time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Frank. Frank asks: Hi Carl, I have just read your book Your Digital Life and I have read GTD. the problem I have now is where do I start? I have everything in place inbox, projects and areas of focus, but there seems to be too much for me to do. Can you help? 

Hi Frank, thank you for your fantastic question. 

 The first thing we need to understand is that our to-lists are never going to stop filling up. Life will always throw up far more than we can ever do. I think most people begin to realise that after a while. It’s why inbox zero only lasts for a few minutes. As soon as we get our email inbox down to zero, pretty soon more email will begin arriving. It just isn't going to stop. 

So that’s the first thing we all have to accept. Zeroing everything out is temporary. Clean everything out, take your dog for a walk and when you get back you will have stuff accumulating again. 

So where do you start? Well, just start at the top and keep going. That’s really all there is to it. Of course, things are a bit more complicated than that. Some things will be more important than others. Some tasks are time sensitive, others less so. 

Part of becoming more productive is developing skills that will help you to prioritise. Which of all your collected tasks need to be done sooner rather than later? Which tasks, if you did right now, would take a lot of pressure off you? And which tasks have your attention right now? All those should be dealt with first. These tasks will be taking up a lot of mental energy and so the sooner you either do them or make a decision on when you will do them the better. 

Quite often all you need to do once you have everything in your system is to go through all your projects and areas of focus and decide what needs to happen next to get things moving forward. It’s surprising how by spending an hour or so doing a weekly review you soon get everything moving forward and you begin to relax. 

But before that, The primary objective when you start using any kind of productivity or time management system is to build trust in your system. If things get missed and you are not seeing what you need to see when you need to see it, you will not trust your system and when that happens you stop using it and you’re back where you started. Blaming yourself or the system for you not being able to be productive. Having trust needs to be objective number one. When you trust you are collecting everything as it comes to mind, you are collecting your great ideas and all events are put on to your calendar—that’s when you begin to relax and great things happen. If you don't trust your system you will have tasks in your to-do list and they will still be in your head. You’re duplicating. When you trust your system, your mind can let go knowing everything is collected and is either processed or will be processed very soon. 

Now, where do you start? Well once you know what has your attention you need to establish what is time sensitive and what tasks will have the biggest impact on your projects you can begin doing the work. Start with those. As you complete those tasks you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment. You will feel yourself relaxing, becoming less stressed because the things that are most pressing are getting done. 

At the end of the workday, spend a few minutes organising what you collected. Deal with the most urgent, process the rest so you will see them when you need to see them and enjoy the rest of the day. 

What I have found is we become more stressed and feel more overwhelmed when we don't get whatever is on our mind out of there and into a place we know we will check later. Being more productive isn't about doing a lot of work in less time, being more productive is about doing the work that matters and discarding the stuff that doesn't matter. To do that takes courage. 

It’s very easy to think everything that comes our way is important. It’s much harder to make decisions about whether something really is important or not. But if you really want to get control of your time so you can spend more of it doing the things you want to do, that is something you are going to have to do. 

I get a lot of requests to review apps from hard-working app developers. I feel for them because I know it’s incredibly hard to come up with the idea, develop the concept and to them build the app. That takes a lot of time and hard work. I also love looking at and trying new productivity apps. But I am not an app reviewer and I really don't have the time to review an app properly. I am very clear about the things I want to spend my time doing. So I politely decline any offers that come my way. The truth is there are people out there who would do a far better job reviewing apps. So although I really want to help these developers get noticed, I know reviewing apps is not my thing and so I say no. 

It’s hard to say no, but it is better for me and for the developers that I do. That way I don’t waste anyone’s time. 

And that’s the way you need to become. Understand what is important to you so you can spend more time doing that and less time doing stuff you don’t enjoy or don’t want to do. 

Of course, I know that isn’t always easy when the stuff you don’t like doing is given to you by your boss or customer. But we also get a lot of opportunities each day that look very attractive, but at the end of the day are just going to suck time away from you and prevent you from doing the things that really matter—those time-sensitive tasks that do need doing today. 

So go through your task list, decide what has your attention and what is time sensitive and prioritise those tasks. You can add a date, add a flag or create labels or tags that tell you whether something is important or not. You can decide to focus on one project and get that project completed by the end of the week. You do have a lot of freedom about where you want to put your attention. The thing is, once you have made a decision about where you want to put your focus you need to stick to the plan. There’s no point in having a plan for the day and then making it easy for you to change that plan just because you received an email that looks more attractive. You do not want to have too many tasks assigned each day, you do need to keep some flexibility in your day for those urgent requests from your customers or boss. But you do need a plan for the day. If you don’t have a plan, someone else will give you one and their plan is not going to be a very good plan for you. 

The secret is really all about knowing what has your attention and making sure you have made a decision on what you are going to do about it and when. When you have instilled that practice and it becomes a habit, then you will find everything slips into place and you start getting a lot of very important work done and at the same time your stress levels fall and you start to feel much more relaxed about doing what you are doing. 

So, make sure you are collecting everything that has your attention. Then when you process that stuff, ask yourself what you need to do about it and when and if you decide it is not important and is not going to contribute to your overall life plan then get rid of it. Being more productive is all about saying no to a lot of things and sousing all your energy on the things that you decide is important. 

If everything is out of your head and into a trusted system and you know what needs your attention will show up when you need it to show up, then you are well on your way to becoming super-productive. 

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

Don’t forget if you have a question about productivity, time management, GTD or goal planning, get in touch either by email (carl@carlpullein.com) or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. All my contact links are in the show notes.

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

 

Talking Productivity And GTD with David Allen (Part 2)
Talking Productivity and GTD with David Allen (Part 1)

Talking Productivity and GTD with David Allen (Part 1)

April 1, 2019

Podcast 75

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I talk with the GTD guy himself, David Allen. We had a great conversation about applying the principles of GTD as well as overcoming some of the difficulties people often face with applying a GTD process.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The 2019 GTD Summit Website

Getting Things Done book

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2019 Edition of Your Digital Life 2.0 

Life And Time Mastery Workshop, Scunthorpe. UK.

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

 

How To Breathe Life Into a Tired Uninspiring To-do List

How To Breathe Life Into a Tired Uninspiring To-do List

March 25, 2019

Podcast 74

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about getting your to-do list under control and making it more inspiring.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The March Madness Sale Website

Life And Time Mastery Workshop, Scunthorpe. UK.

The Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The 2019 Edition of Your Digital Life 2.0 

Script

Hello and welcome to episode 74 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a wonderful question about cleaning up an out-of-control to-do list and how to make it more inspiring—something I don’t think we think very much about when we create our to-do lists. 

Before we dive into the answer, I’d just like to let you all know—in case you missed it—My learning centre is currently having a huge March Madness Sale. In this sale, you can get yourself a 35% discount on ALL my courses AND coaching programmes. 

As we are rapidly approaching the end of the first quarter on 2019, if you are finding yourself a little out of motivation or need a big boost to kick start your year, this would be a great time to get yourself a great deal on a course or a coaching programme. Details of the sale are available in the show notes. 

Oh and if you are in the UK on the 20th April and have some free time, I will be doing a workshop in Scunthorpe with Kevin Blackburn—The Life Success Engineer— called Life and Time Mastery. This is a FREE workshop and we’d love to see you there. Our goal is to help you to create your life’s goals and then show you how you can turn those goals into action steps you can take every day to make them happen. A link to the registration page is in the show notes. 

Okay, let’s get into the question 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 Helena. Helena asks; Hi Carl, my to-do list is a mess and I don't find it inspiring at all. I hate going in there. Is there anything I can do to get it under control and make it more inspiring? 

That’s a fantastic question, Helena! And I know a lot of people struggle with this one. In our excitement of getting ourselves more organised and productive we throw everything into our shiny new to-do lists and create a lot of projects—and I mean a lot. On top of that, the way we write out tasks can often be confusing. This means we end up with a to-do list manager that may have felt nice for a few days but now leaves us feeling confused and uninspired to do anything about. 

One of the things I find is, as time goes by we learn the best way to write tasks but in the initial stages of playing around with our new to-do list manager we are less focused on how we write our tasks and more focused on what our to-do list app can do. This is often the reason why we end up with a very complicated hierarchy of projects and sub-projects. We create sub-projects because we can rather than because we need to. 

But the biggest problem we experience is when we go out into the world and begin our new lives as organised and productive people. When we set up our to-do list manager we imagine walking into work, opening up our today list and start doing the tasks from the top. Completing our tasks by the end of our work day and coming home in a relaxed, happy state, ready to do it all again the next day. 

Sadly, the real world introduces email, instant messages, phone calls, bosses and colleagues who think nothing of interrupting you to give you more work. If we are sharp we collect that stuff and add it to our inboxes, if not, we slip back in to old habits and leave it in our heads hoping we will remember to do it later—which we often don't. Pretty soon we are back where we started—a disorganised mess. 

So, what can we do to keep things organised, inspiring and moving forward?

Well, first take a look at your to-do list manager. How many projects do you have in there? Are they really projects or just stuff you hope to get round to one day? How are those projects written? Do you feel excited when you look at those projects? Writing out your summer holiday project as simply “summer holiday” is not exciting. Writing it out as “ Our summer holiday to Prague” is much more likely to initiate a more positive feeling. A feeling that you would like to do something about it. 

The same applies to how you write your tasks. I know this might sound a bit simplistic but if you write something like “buy dog food” that task does not really have any emotional value. Now, if you own a dog, You really care about him or her, I know I do. So if I have to buy anything for my dog, I would always write the task out as “buy Barney some more snacks”. Now when I see that task on my list I also see my little boy in my mind. Much more emotional and it is less likely I will postpone the task to another day. 

Little things like this might seem simplistic and silly, but they can have a very big impact on the way you feel about your tasks when you see them on a list. “Prepare curriculum outline for Jenny” sounds much better than just “prepare curriculum outline” or “pick up prescription for Steve” is better than “pick up prescription” 

When you use a person’s name in the task it gives it more meaning. It’s more human, more intimate than a cold uninspiring task written like “get sales reports”. 

While on the subject of tasks, writing tasks out so they are more clear is important. For example, I often see people writing tasks out like “call Sarah”. Now the problem with writing tasks like this is that “call Sarah” might make sense when you write the task initially, but five days later when the task comes up on your today list “call Sarah” probably won’t mean anything and you have to waste valuable time thinking about why you need to call Sarah. It is far better to write “call Sarah about SWX Conference next year” Now you have the purpose of the call written within the task and you will know immediately why you need to call Sarah.

Moving on to your projects. It’s a good idea to go through all your projects periodically to ask the question “why am I doing this project?” Often I find I created a project and three months later the project is still there with the exact same tasks I had when I first created that project. The project is stuck. It hasn’t moved anywhere. Now after three months if a project has not moved there is something wrong. That’s the time to ask the question “Why am I doing this project”. If it hasn’t moved for three months it’s obviously not important. If the project was meaningful in some way it would have moved somewhere in three months. To me, a project that hasn’t moved for three months needs to be removed. Either I will archive it (knowing, if it is meaningful, I can always re-create it) or I will move the project to my someday | maybe list until I am ready to make it active again. 

Seriously, be honest with yourself. If a project has not moved in three months, will it ever move or is it there just in case you decide to do something with it later?

You can also do this with your work projects. I frequently find a boss will tell her team about a new project they are going to be involved with, and as good organised and productive people we create the project in our work project list and then we wait. And we wait and we wait. Six months later that project is still in our projects list but nothing has happened. Guys… Let me tell you something…. It is never going to move. Your boss has already forgotten about it and it’s off the radar. Remove it. If by some miracle your boss suddenly remembers it, you can always recreate the project later. 

Now if you are in the areas of focus world—that is organising your projects by areas of focus rather than individual projects—you should go through each area asking are they really areas you want to put your focus on? You may have thought a few months ago that you’d like to focus on maintaining a clean working environment, but several months later your enthusiasm for keeping your workspace clean, tidy and organised has wained a little and you are no longer doing anything about it. Either keeping a clean workspace is important to you or it isn’t. If it is, put some life back into that area of focus or if it isn’t, delete the area. Again, you can always recreate it later if you decide you would like to focus on it after all. 

To maintain a functioning to-do list manager, you need to keep it maintained and functioning. Filling up your to-do list manager with “hope to” or “wish to” projects is never going to work well. It will become overwhelming and uninspiring because you will have a lot of dormant projects and tasks in there. Purge and purge again. Never be afraid to purge. You can always recreate your projects anytime if they become active in the future.

Your to-do list manager needs to be a power-plant of activity. Tasks coming in and tasks getting completed. When there’s a lot of activity going on in there it will be naturally inspiring. When there’s little to no activity, and your projects list rarely changes it becomes boring and uninspiring. That’s when you get that feeling you are just going round and round in circles. 

Finally, stop overcomplicating your lists. This really is an inspiration killer. Sure it might be cool to be able to create six levels of child hierarchy, but having a deep level of child projects just makes things complicated. When your brain sees complexity it will resist. Try to keep things as simple as you can and have some hard edges between the different types of inputs you get. A task goes into your task list manager, a note goes into your notes app and an event goes on your calendar. Almost all modern apps will allow you to cross-link these different inputs. For example, you can add a link to a note to a task in your task list manager which will then allow you to click the link and be immediately taken to the relevant note. Or you can add the note link to the calendar event so you can quickly access the note when you see the event on your calendar. 

So there you go, Helena. I hope that has helped to breath new life into your to-do list manager. You are going to need to spend a little time doing some to-do list manager CPR over the next few days, but it will be worth it. Be very clear about why you are doing a project and if you really don’t want to do it just delete it. If a project has been dormant for more than three months either delete it or move it to a someday | maybe file. Don’t leave it hanging around taking up space. And make your tasks more human. Use people’s names and be very clear about what it is you want to do when you do that task. Don’t rely on your memory to remember… It won’t.

Thank you for the question and thank you to you all for listening to this show. If you have a question you would like answering on this show, then please email me at carl@carlpullein.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. 

 

How I Organise My Digital Files

How I Organise My Digital Files

March 18, 2019

Podcast 73

In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to organise all you digital files.

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 73 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question from many people about how to name and manage your digital files. A dangerous topic as I know a few people have some very strong views on filing and how to organise their digital data. But, I’m not one for running away from difficult topics and so in this episode, I will share with you how I organise my own files and let you decide if my system is worth trying. 

Don’t forget, if you have enrolled in my From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 days course you now have a nice update waiting for you. I have updated a few of the existing parts but more excitingly I have added an extra day. This one is Day 4 and Beyond and it gives you a number of strategies to help you to maintain your system once you have it up and running and it comes face to face with the world. 

Just head over to your dashboard on my learning centre and you will find everything you need right there. 

Any of you haven’t enrolled yet, then you can enrol in this fantastic beginners course and get yourself an early-bird discount. All the details are in the show notes.

Okay, onto the question and that means it’s time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Emile, Dennis and Sally. They ask: How do you manage your files on your computer, Carl? 

Thank you all for your question. 

Now, this is apparently a controversial subject. Many people have their own filing methodology and best practices that they swear by and anything else is wrong, wrong, wrong. 

The truth is, of course, is a little more complex than that. Each of us thinks differently. We organise our things differently and our brains are wired differently. This means the only right way to organise your files and folders is the way that works for you. 

Now I organise my folders by year. I’m told this is a stupid way of organising files, but I’ve been organising by year since 1997 and I have never had a problem finding files I want even if the last time I looked at a file was 10 years ago. 

The reason I organise by year is that the older a file is, the less likely I am going to need it. As the years go by the likelihood I will need the file decreases. For example, if I did a workshop for a client 5 years ago, the materials for that workshop would now be out of date. However, if there were some parts of the workshop I would like to reuse. I would then go to my 2014 folder (which is now on an external hard drive labelled 2012 - 2015) find the clients name and retrieve the workshop folder. I can then review the materials, select the parts I want to update and reuse and copy those into my 2019 client’s folder. 

I copy the contents because by the time I have finished updating the materials they will be different. That scenario is very rare though. 

On a day to basis, I use my computer’s build in search functionality. I work in the Apple environment. My computer’s a Mac and I also use an iPhone and iPad. So rather than reinventing the wheel I simply use Apple’s search and filing options. This means I use Spotlight to find files and iCloud to store my current files. 

By “current files” I mean files I am using at the moment or have been working on for the two or three months. 

What this means is Keynote files I am working at this moment are in my iCloud Keynote folder and tagged by company or personal. I only use 3 tags on my computer. CPP which I use for files related to my online course and coaching business, FES for files related to my language business and Personal for all my personal files. And the only reason I do use my computer’s built-in tagging system is so when I do have a lot of files in my iCloud Drive, I can find what I am looking for very easily. I don’t have that many Keynote files in my Keynote iCloud folder, but I do have a lot of files in my Number’s iCloud folder. I use Numbers for my daily admin records. Things such as income and expenditure as well as student attendance records and my social media campaigns. As I use these files almost every day, I want to be able to access them quickly. 

For all other documents, they will be filed in folders related to topic. For example, I have a folder in iCloud called “Online Courses” and inside that are all my online courses organised by folder for each course. I keep all the course thumbnails, outlines (which are done in Numbers) and other related documents. As most of my online courses are updated every year, this folder stays where it is. 

I also keep a folder with all the images I create for my blog posts, campaigns and other stuff. These are organised by month so they are easy to access if I want to modify and reuse them at a later date. I keep the Jpeg and original Photoshop file in this folder.

So how do I name files? I use dates again. And follow the standard format of year, month, day then the file type and finally the name of the file. Between each part, I use a dash. Being in the Apple environment dashes are compatible so I don't use underscores. 

This naming system works perfectly for me. When I do a coaching call with a client I use Spotlight to search the client's name and in the list of results, I will get a list, in date order, of all the previous call’s feedback. I can click on the last feedback document and I have what I need in front of me. 

To speed up the process of file naming, I use TextExpander and have a simple ‘snippet’ —as TextExpander calls them— of “fdate” this then gives me the current date in my filing format plus a dash. 

Now I don't go in for all this added complexity of updated dates or created or opened date. For me, the date I use is the date I created the file. With version history on almost all operating systems now I just don't need any of that added complexity. If I need to go back to a previous version I just use version history. 

What it comes down to is to create a filing system that works for you. Although many may criticise the way I organise my files, what matters is it works for me. All the files I am working on right now are easy to find and when they are finished with they are archived by the year and month I worked on them. 

Almost all operating systems have search functions that are fast and all you need to think about is the name of the file you are looking for. 

That means what you name a file is important. If you use a last name first name structure for example, would you really search for the music of Bob Dylan using the term “Dylan, Bob” probably not? Using the “Dylan, Bob” structure might work with a school attendance record, but it is not a natural way of thinking for us. 

Funnily enough, when I tested this using Spotlight on my computer, I got almost the same results whichever way I wrote Bob Dylan. 

So when it comes to organising your files and folders I would always recommend simplicity. The search function on your computers is so good now, you only need to be clear and consistent with your file naming. Folders could easily be optional today. A simple work and personal folder would pretty much allow you to keep things well organised. That, of course, does bring with it a number of problems though.

As it is so easy to find files now, it is also easy to leave files hanging around filling up your computer’s hard drive space. This is why I have a 2 terabyte external hard drive attached to my computer and when I finish a project I move that project’s folder to the 2019 folder I have created on that hard drive. I have a 2018 MacBook Pro with a 256 GB hard drive which means hard drive space is limited. If I am not currently working on a particular project it is archived onto the external hard drive. Anything I am working on regularly is stored in iCloud for access whenever I need it. 

That is why your file naming convention is more important than the way you manage your folders. With all this cloud storage available to us at a relatively low cost, and the fantastic search functionality of these cloud drives, you could very easily just have a long list of files and as long as you know what you are looking for, you will be able to very quickly find what you are looking for. 

I would always recommend you have some form of archival system in place though. Going by year is the easiest and most logical way, but you may prefer to archive using a clients name or type of file. That choice is yours. Whichever way you choose be consistent. As I have been using the same archival system for nearly twenty years, I don’t have a lot to think about if I want to find something I create a few years ago. I only need an approximate year as my archived hard-drives run between 3 and 4 years. Once I attach the hard drive to my computer I can perform a search for what I am looking for and as I have used the same naming system for many years I can use my computer’s search to find what I am looking for. 

A lot of the problems people face when it comes to organising files is really consistency or lack of consistency. If you keep changing the way you name files then it will become very complicated. Find a naming format that works best for the way you think and stick with it. Don’t try and be too clever, keep it as simple and logical as possible and you will be fine. 

You should also get to know your computer’s search abilities. I’m relatively new to using Apple’s Spotlight before I used an app called Alfred. While Alfred is excellent, I have found Spotlight gives me better search results and has speeded up my searches tremendously. And that saves a lot of time.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you to Emile, Dennis and Sally for your questions and thank you for listening. If you have a question you would like answering, then you can email me - carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. 

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