The Working With… Podcast
The Time Delusion.

The Time Delusion.

March 23, 2020

On this week’s podcast, why do we delude ourselves about what we can do each day?

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

 

David Sparks' Article on the time delusion

Carl Pullein Learning Centre

Productivity Masterclass | Create Your Own Custom Workflow

Carl’s YouTube Channel

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 125

Hello and welcome to episode 125 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

So how many tasks on average are you rescheduling each day? If you find yourself rescheduling tasks you are likely deluding yourself about how much you can do each day and it’s a problem I find in many people’s productivity systems and often causes people to falsely believe to-do lists and time management is not for them. The good news is once you accept reality, it is a problem you can fix very easily and that is what I will be talking about today.

Now, before we get into this week’s answer, I just want to give you a gentle reminder that many of my courses are on a very special offer this month and you have a chance to pick up four of my all-time best courses for just $40.00 (or for as little as $10.00 each) Time is running out as this very special offer will be ending soon so head over to my learning centre and get your bundle today. You will not be disappointed. All the details are in the 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 Frederic. Frederic asks: Hi Carl, I have trouble completing all my tasks most days. I find I am having to reschedule sometimes half of the tasks I set for myself. Is this normal or am I doing something wrong? 

WOW! Thank you, Frederic. I’ve been reading quite a few articles recently on this problem myself and it seems you are not alone. One article, in particular, caught my attention which I will link to in the show notes. David Sparks of the MacSparky podcast wrote about the delusion we have about how much we think we can do and the reality of what we actually can do each day. High expectations and hope rarely lead to a good outcome. What we need is to reduce those expectations and remove hope from the equation when we plan our day. The question is, how do we do that? 

Firstly, understand you have a limited amount of time each day and with that time limit you also have limited resources of focus and concentration. What this means is as the day goes by your ability to focus and concentrate diminishes too. Your brain has a limited capacity to stay focused. And so while it might be easy to keep adding tasks to your daily to-do list, it becomes much harder to stay focused on completing those tasks as the day goes by. That’s why most people hit a mid-afternoon slump. 

However, there are more complications here too. Another factor is when are you at your most focused? Here we are all very different. Some people are at their most focused first thing in the morning—the early birds. Others find they can focus better in the evening—the night owls. And there are a rare few who find they focus most in the afternoons. Those people are so rare, though, we don’t have a name for them. 

So, one of the first things to do is to find out which type of person you are. Are you an early bird or a night owl? This is important because once you know your type you can start scheduling the work that needs your most focus at your best time. 

Now this can be more difficult than you think. When I was in my twenties, I always felt I was a night owl. I hated mornings and really only came alive as the sun set. As I have matured I find I now focus best in the mornings - between 7 AM and 9 AM. Yet, I also find I can be very creative in the evenings between 11 PM and 1 AM. I experience a mental slump in the afternoons, so I schedule my exercise for 2 PM. Now I know many of you cannot do that as 2 PM is in the middle of your working day. That said, though, monitoring your days and learning when you feel at your most focused and when not is an essential first step to becoming more productive. 

One of the least productive things you can do is to push through on a task that requires high levels of focus and concentration when you are in a mental slump. It would be far better to stop doing the task and spend some time working on your email replies and phone calls. Generally, your communications require less focus than pouring over a spreadsheet doing due diligence on a company’s financial status. 

According to Daniel Pink in his book, When, most people are at their most focused first thing in the morning. So for most of you the best time to schedule work that requires the most concentration is when you arrive at work. This is why you should not start your day with email. Email requires low levels of concentration so you would be better off working on your email replies towards the end of the morning—say 11:30 AM. This is one of the best times to hit reply too because as most people are heading off to lunch around that time you are less likely to get replies coming in as you reply. (That’s a secret bonus tip for you—please keep it to yourself!)

Okay, so now you have established your best times for focus and concentration, how do you manage the number of tasks you have for the day? Good question.

Firstly, stop creating your daily to-do list based on hope and wishful thinking. Yes, we are all busy, yes we all have more stuff to do than available time in the day. But, we cannot change that. Instead, we need to get smart about how to manage our mental energy. If you focus better in the morning block time off to do your more difficult tasks in the morning. If you are in a leadership role, don’t schedule meetings first thing in the morning—remember most people are at their best first thing in the morning—schedule meetings for late morning or better still early afternoon. 

Next, reduce down the number of tasks you try to do each day. Now here’s a trick I use. Rather look at a what I want to accomplish on a daily basis, I find looking at the week as a whole works better. Ask yourself what do you want to get accomplished this week? Now this focuses you more on outcomes than individual tasks and helps to reduce the number of tasks you have to do each week. 

Let’s say your goal for the week is to complete a proposal and get a commitment from a potential customer to purchase your service or product. Now, most companies follow SOPs (standards of procedure) and often these just add unnecessary tasks. Instead ask the question “what do I have to do this week to get this potential customer’s business by close of business on Friday?” Asking this question may lead you to make a couple of calls and sending an email for two. This is far better than following some antiquated box-ticking system that was written five years ago that the potential customer or client does not care about. 

For me, I could ask the question “what do I have to do to get this online course update finished by Sunday evening?” When I ask that question I may decide I need to cancel my teaching assignments on Thursday so I can spend all day in my studio recording the classes. Sometimes that’s the only way you are going to get something done. As the saying goes: “if it’s important enough you’ll find way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse”. If I had a task such as “complete course update” I know that task is going to get rescheduled and I would likely miss completing the update. A task this big needs a lot of focussed time. It’s far better to block a day off to get it done than to keep discovering I don’t have time to do it today. 

Now, I’ve heard the excuses about not being able to block a whole day off to complete a project or a task. And I’ve worked in enough industries to know this is partially true. That said, I also know that if a project needs to be completed by the end of the week or month the successful are willing to pull out all the stops and do whatever it takes to get that project completed. Like I said if it’s important enough you will find a way. If it’s not you will find an excuse. This one is your call. Talk to your boss, talk to your customers explain the situation. Do whatever it takes to carve out the time to complete the project. 

You need to get intentional about what you want to accomplish each day. Sure, you’re going to get a lot of stuff thrown at you, that’s called life. As a productive person you need to learn to manage that stuff, prioritise the important and discard the not so important. It’s hard, it takes practice, but it’s worth it because of the productivity benefits you will get from it. 

Finally, are you practising the 2+8 Prioritisation method? This works. It works because it focuses you on deciding what is important. You have to decide what ten tasks you are going to complete today (excluding your routines). Now, this is not a rough number. It’s an intentionally precise number. You are only allowed a maximum of ten meaningful project or goal-orientated tasks per day. 

I’ve seen people try to do more than ten tasks only to end up rescheduling many of those tasks. Remember, the purpose here is to not have to reschedule. To have enough meaningful tasks to comfortably complete them all and not have to reschedule. To have flexibility built into your day so you can deal with the inevitable unknowns that will come your way every day. 

Think of it this way. If you have to reschedule a task - you failed. No excuse. You tried to do too much and you screwed up. Stop, review and ask why and then adjust accordingly. A lot of becoming better at managing your time and becoming more productive is really about making tiny adjustments until you discover your own sweet spot. The place where the number of tasks and type of work you do is manageable and has enough flexibility built in so you can deal with minor emergencies, interruptions and distractions as they come up. Most people never reach that sweet spot because they don’t stop and figure out where their sweet spot is. Instead, I find most people are better at coming up with excuses about why they are different and why something that works for billions of other people couldn’t work for them. 

If you’re having to reschedule tasks every day, then whatever you are trying to do is not working. If you find you need to reschedule once or twice a week, that’s not really a problem. Sometimes the unknowns in the day will derail you. But, for the most part, you should be organising your day so you are not rescheduling much and that takes a lot of honesty and analysis. But that honesty and analysis will free you up to make better choices about how you manage your work each day. 

Hopefully, that has helped you, Frederic. Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

How to Spring Clean Your Digital Life

How to Spring Clean Your Digital Life

March 16, 2020

Spring is just around the corner and that means we are entering the Spring cleaning season. What’s the best way to do that? 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Carl Pullein Learning Centre

Productivity Masterclass | Create Your Own Custom Workflow

Carl’s YouTube Channel

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 124

Hello and welcome to episode 124 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week we are exploring the concept of the Spring clean and decluttering our stuff. Decluttering is a subject particularly close to my heart this year and it’s something I do every year.

And speaking of spring cleaning and decluttering That’s exactly what I am doing with my Learning Centre this month. I am cleaning out some my older legacy courses and that means you can pick some of those up for only $10! 

These courses are packed with great tips and tricks as well as know-how and in many cases workbooks and worksheets. They’ve been around a while and have helped thousands of people build great productivity systems, develop goals, get out of control email tamed AND developed the foundations of a successful life. 

If you want to learn a lot for a small investment, then take a look at what’s on offer. I am sure there’s something for everyone here. You will have to be quick, these courses will be disappearing after the 31 March. Details of what’s on offer are in the show notes.

Okay, on with the show 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 Annabel. Annabel asks, hi Carl, I did your Your Digital Life 2 course late last year and I have a system now. The problem I have though is all my files, documents and papers are a complete mess and I don’t know where to start to get them all organised. Do you have any tips to clean this area up?

Thank you, Annabel, for the question. 

Now, as we are approaching spring, it is a great time to be thinking about cleaning up and organising our stuff. Did you know traditionally, the spring clean was done to clean out the soot left by oil lamps and fires used to light and warm homes in the winter? And going back even further many religions and cultures have used the spring and approaching easter to clean alters and begin the new religious year. So the spring clean has a lot of history and customs. 

Now for us in the digital world, a spring clean gives us the opportunity to clean up our stuff. We have probably collected a lot of files, documents, notes and other such stuff over the year—or years—that are just gathering digital dust somewhere on our hard drives or cloud storage systems and spring is a great time to clean these up, archive the old and delete a lot more. 

Here’s a thing. Email. I know we collect a lot of emails over the years and we leave them in our archive folders or in special folders we added to manage a project or an email heavy exchange with a colleague. The trouble is we rarely clean these out and delete them so they build up over time. Now with email there will always be a copy of the mail. If you sent an email the person you sent it to will have your email. If you received an email the person who sent you the mail with have the original mail. So, never worry about deleting old emails. Cleaning up your email not only makes you feel better, but it also speeds up your whole system. Start with your email guys. Delete, delete and delete some more. 

If you want to save an email because it has some sentimental value to you, then export it as a PDF and save it in a folder called “keepsakes” or “memories” or something like that. That way it’s outside of your email, but you still have a copy of it somewhere. 

A quick tip for these keepsake or memory folders. Review them each year when you do your spring clean. I find I delete a lot of the stuff I saved there each year so only real sentimental items stay there. It’s surprising after another year passes how unimportant some of these emails, photos and documents can be.

Next up your computer’s hard drive. Now hopefully you no longer keep files, photos, documents and stuff on your computer’s hard drive. I hope you are using cloud storage for these now. Aside from the risk of losing these documents and folders if your computer crashed or died, you also need to have your computer with you at all times if you were to have access to them. No, don’t do that. Cloud storage is cheap and it’s safe and secure. If your computer, phone or tablet dies, is lost or becomes corrupted, you still have your files safe and secure online. 

That said, we still need to hold the apps we use on our computers so clean up these. Are there any apps you are no longer using? Are there any apps you have not used at all in the last twelve months? Delete these. If you do need them again in the future you can always re-download them.

Just a quick tip on your media files. I have a lot of old movies and TV shows that are not available on Netflix or other streaming services. A lot of Cary Grant movies as well as my James Bond Collection, The Professionals (remember Bodie, Doyle and Cowley?), Inspector Morse and Ally McBeal are all on a 2 terabyte external hard drive I keep velcroed to the side of my desk. This hard drive is for my digital media so my Apple Music, Films and Podcasts are all there as well as archives of my photos going back at least ten years. None of these are on my computer’s hard drive. And because some of these TV shows would be almost impossible to retrieve if I lost them, I have them backed up on another external hard drive. A 2 terabyte hard drive is going to cost you less than $100 these days and will last you many years. So get your media backed up and off your computer’s hard drive.

Now for your folders and documents. For me, I find organising these by year is the most effective way. This way I can easily remove older files without having to go through them one by one. At the beginning of each year, I create a new parent folder called, in this years case, “2020”. Inside there I can keep my project folders, client folders for this year and anything else I am working on this year. I began doing this around ten years ago now and each spring I just archive the previous year’s folder. So, this spring, my 2019 folder will be moved off to an external hard drive. 

Now what I keep in here are projects that are completed, workshops I did last year and my email archive (which I download as an archive file through my Mac OS Mail app.) Old client files will also be in here and anything this else I am finished with.

What will not be in here are my online course folders as these get updated each year so the folders remain relevant and current, my folders related to my YouTube channel, this podcast and anything else that is still active. They stay in my current folders in iCloud. 

Now, I should point out how you organise your files and documents is entirely up to you. You need to develop a way that works for you. For me, organising by year has worked incredibly well. If I need to find something from a few years ago, I can attach the relevant hard drive (they are all labelled by year and do a Spotlight search and I will be able to find it. 

I think we sometimes forget that our computers are incredible at finding stuff. You no longer need to develop an elaborate file system. You only need a place to store the files. For me, I do it by year, you may prefer to do it by subject or client. Chose a way that works best for you. 

I find the hardest part of decluttering and cleaning up is letting go. We have this false belief that we will need a file or a document sometime in the future, yet almost every time we never do. If you clean up and move stuff off to an external hard drive you have not lost anything. It’s still there. It’s now on an external hard drive and no longer taking up space on your computer or in your cloud storage. Just let it go. Once you’ve bought the external hard drive, it’s not costing you anything to keep it. 

The final part of your spring clean is to look at how you are organising your stuff. A great question to ask yourself is: “can I find everything I need when I need it?” If not, take a look at how you are organising your files. I use a simple role-based structure. That means my work is divided by my businesses and my personal work. So, I have three areas. My productivity business, my English language business and personal. The basic structure inside these areas does not change on a year to year basis so all I have to do is remove old stuff I no longer need and move them to my year folders. 

I do keep the same basic structure in my year folders too. So the three areas are child folders inside my year folder. That way I find it easier to find stuff when I need to find it. 

And that’s really what it’s all about. It’s about being able to find stuff when you need to find it. That’s why how you organise everything needs to work for you and don’t just copy someone else’s structure. I did that in the past. I saw a video years ago where David Allen showed us how he processes his stuff and organises Evernote and files and I spent weeks trying to set up the same system. What a complete waste of time. It did not work for me at all and it soon became unwieldy and unmanageable. David Allen spends a lot more time processing and organising than I have time for. That’s why it did not work for me. 

So I urge you to find your own path. A basic structure such as organising by year or by role—your work and your personal life is a good place to start, but how you organise your sub-folders that needs to work for you and the way you think. 

My working life began in the 1990s so I became familiar with filing cabinets and the alpha-numeric way of filing. That has followed me through to the way I organise my files now. My tagging in Evernote, my tagging on my computer, for example, are all organised in a simple alpha-numeric way. This might not work for you. I’ve seen people organise folders with the letter “P” or “W” at the beginning to indicate a personal or work file and I’ve seen professors organise their work by the subject code and year which makes absolutely no sense to me, but works seamlessly for them. 

So please, I urge you to work out the best way for you. The way you think so finding your files is instinctive and easy. 

The final point I should make is you need to keep things as simple as possible. When you file today you need to be filing for your dumb self tomorrow. It might be fantastic to come up with an elaborate organisation system today, but in three or five years time you will probably be unlikely to remember how you were organising things. So keep things as simple as you can. Think about how your dumb self tomorrow with try and find a file. Use that system.

Thank you again, Annabel 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, all you have to do is 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 very very productive week. 

 

Why Do People With No Productivity System Manage To Get Their Work Done?

Why Do People With No Productivity System Manage To Get Their Work Done?

March 9, 2020

This week, why do my colleagues who have no productivity system seem to always get their work done on time and I struggle? 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Carl Pullein Learning Centre

Productivity Masterclass | Create Your Own Custom Workflow

Carl’s YouTube Channel

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 123

Hello and welcome to episode 123 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week we have an unusual question and a question that intrigued me somewhat because I also noticed it. That is people who have no apparent knowledge of productivity systems, to-do list managers, Evernote or OneNote and seem to be able to get on with their work, meet their deadlines and not appear stressed out. How do they do that?

Now before we get to answer this intriguing question I’d like to tell you about an unusual sale I am having. 

I began creating online courses in 2017. I gathered together over twenty years of knowledge, put it all together into a series of courses and began helping people to discover a better way of managing their work, achieving their goals and building a life they wanted to live. I used the knowledge I had gained, the tips and tricks that had worked for me over the years and my own know-how and began my career as an online teacher. 

Well, the time has come to retire some of these courses. I have updated some of them in newer, more comprehensive courses and now my Learning Centre has quite a lot of duplication. 

So, this month I am having a clear-out sale. You can buy many of these older courses for just $10.00 or you can buy them all as a bundle for just $40.00 - that’s 4 courses including my Complete Guide To Building A Successful Life for just $40.00!! 

Don’t worry, these courses will not disappear. If you enrol now or have enrolled in any of them in the past, you will still have access to them via your dashboard. The only change is they will no longer be showing in my course lists. I have also made them all downloadable so you can take them with you wherever you go. 

More details of what’s on offer are in the show notes. There’s a lot of content there for an incredibly low price. So if you’ve been holding back, now would be a fantastic time to pick up a course and start building your own productivity system, goal planning method and so much more for very little cost. 

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 Matthew. Matthew asks: Hi Carl, I am a regular listener of your podcast and I watch your YouTube channel. I am also an avid reader of productivity blogs to get the latest tips and hacks on productivity but I have a problem. My colleagues at work do not have any productivity system neither do they read or talk about productivity. They are more productive than me and they get a lot done and are not stressed at all.

Is having a productivity system to follow a waste of time or is there something wrong with me.

What a fantastic question, Matthew and thank you for sending it in.

Now my first reaction when I read this question was, yes! I have noticed that too. But then when I began thinking about it and looked at the way many of my language students manage their work I realised that much of what we see is just the surface. We do not see what is going on internally with these people. When I ask my students how they manage their work a lot of them tell me their email determines what they work on each day. Or their supervisor will give them a list of tasks that need to be done. 

What I noticed was that most were managing their work based on what was the most urgent and who was asking them to do the work. They had no plan, no direction and pretty much all of them were not achieving their goals. In fact, almost all of them had no goals. It was a life of work, eat, sleep repeat. 

Often when you operate your life from the perspective of what your boss or your most urgent email is telling you to do, you may appear on top of your work, but the problem here is you are just following the priorities of other people. Your life, your goals and your aspirations never get a chance. It’s a life following orders and when you finally approach the end of your career you realise you have lived a life serving other people’s interests and neglected your own interests. And that’s when regret sets in.

Sure, when we are young we feel we are immortal. We feel we have plenty of time to pursue what we want to achieve and it’s so much easier to let other people tell us what we should be doing. After all, if it goes wrong, if we discover we were working on the wrong thing, then we have someone else to blame. Right? 

That’s true. It is an easier life to let others make all the decisions for you. But if you stop for just one moment and ask yourself is that really what you want for your life? You may find you have your own ideas, your own aspirations, dreams and things you want to pursue. So the question will be when are you going to start making decisions for yourself? When are you going to take responsibility for your own life? 

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. When I first began working full time, I too took orders from my supervisor. But then I was learning the job. I was following the SOP (Standard of Procedure) manual. And although it was slow at first, I was soon able to do my work without a list in front of me. Then when I began working in a law office, the mail came in, it was put in my in-basket and all I had to do was empty my in-basket each day and I was doing my job. 

The problem here is that this kind of work in not fulfilling. Sure you are clearing your in-basket each day, but you are doing nothing for you. You are not developing. You are stagnating. And stagnation is a horrible place to be when you reach 45 years old. 

In Tony Robbins’ early work, he often talked about something called “CANI” spelt C A N I. “CANI” stands for Constant And Never-Ending Improvement” and the idea is every day you are striving to be a better version of yourself. Now, this is hard work, this involves questioning everything you do and asking yourself if there is a better way to do it? How can I improve myself today? 

For your colleagues, who never read or are not interested in self-improvement or productivity they are not asking this question. They are avoiding this question. They are avoiding it because deep down they will be feeling a little unsettled. Questions like “is this it”? Is this what life is all about? Will be coming at them from time to time. 

When we are young, it is infrequent—we still have hopes about a better life. We fall into the trap of if I follow this path that everyone tells me to follow I will be happy. The reality is this path leads to disappointment. Nobody is else is going to make you happy. Only you can do that. And the happiest people I know are the people who have a goal, have a plan and have a system in place that is taking them a little closer to achieving their goals each day. 

So, perhaps on a day to day basis when there are other people telling what to do and where to be, a productivity system may seem a bit surplus to requirements, but having a productivity system in place is less about your daily work and more about keeping you focused on what you have identified as being important to you. 

If all you were concerned about was getting the work that has been assigned to you done each day, then a simple piece of paper and list of those tasks to be done would be all you need. But a fulfilled life is much more than that. Your daily work is a single component of a whole life. You have your family and friends, your hobbies, your health and side projects. All these need your attention and some will be more important to you than others. Having a system in place that allows you time each day to reflect on these things, to prioritise what is important to you right now and have a plan in place for you to follow so you achieve the things you want to achieve is the way towards living a fulfilled life. 

Having a productivity system is not really about getting things done. It does help you there because you can see what needs doing and you can decide when to do it. Having a productivity system is much more about making sure you are working on your priorities and not being dragged off to work on other people’s priorities at the expense of your own. That’s the key. Having a system in place means you can collect your ideas, develop those ideas and build a life for yourself that leads to real happiness and fulfilment. It helps to prevent you from living a life you will one day regret. 

A final bit of advice here is if your colleagues do not have a system and are getting more work done than you there is a possibility your system is too complex. One of the things I preach is to simplify your system and maximise the time you spend doing the work. If you are collecting and giving yourself around ten to twenty minutes at the end of the day to process, review and plan the next day, you should be finding no difficulty in getting your work done with little to no stress. If you are struggling to get your work done and are feeling stressed then the chances are your system is too complex. Look at ways to simplify. Reduce your processing and organising time and find ways to maximise your doing time. 

The goal is to start the day knowing exactly what it is you want to get done and to get started straight away. 

I hope that has helped, Michael and thank you very much for your question. Thank you also to you for listening.

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

 

How To Turn Procrastination To Your Advantage

How To Turn Procrastination To Your Advantage

March 2, 2020

This week, on the Working With… Podcast, we are digging deep into the world of procrastination. 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

 

Gary Vaynerchuk - A 5 Minute Plea to Do

Productivity Masterclass | Create Your Own Custom Workflow

Carl’s YouTube Channel

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Carl Pullein Learning Centre 

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 122

Hello and welcome to episode 122 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Right. So it happens to us all. We find it almost impossible to motivate ourselves to begin a project or to sit down and prepare that presentation, write that email or call that difficult client. Instead, we will suddenly realise that the most important task right now is to clean our desk of the five files we left there this morning and our socks drawer has to be re-organised now!

Yes, this week we return to the wonderful subject of procrastination and more specifically how to turn procrastination to your advantage. 

Now, before we begin, are you ready to move beyond the to-do list? I ask because I see a lot of people getting stuck and not getting what they want done because they are spending far too much time inside their to-do list and not enough time doing the work. For me, that’s a weakness in the whole Getting Things Done methodology—too much time processing, organising and reviewing—and it’s a weakness in a lot of people’s system and if you think about it, it is just another form of procrastination. 

In my latest course, Productivity Masterclass | Build Your Own Workflow, I take everything I’ve learned about doing the work so I have more time to do the things I want to do and built it into a course that will show you how to get focused on your important tasks, how to make sure you goals are being acted on every day and how to finally get away from living inside your to-do list so you can focus on the things you want to focus on. Basically, how you can stop procrastinating.

I’d love for you to join me in this course, so please take a look. The link to the course details is in the show notes. 

Okay, 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 Janet. Janet asks: Hi Carl, I recently took your COD course and loved it. The problem I have though is I never seem to be able to get started on my work. I follow the Golden ten, yet when I wake up in the morning I will do everything except the things I had planned to do. Do you have any tips that could help me?

Hi Janet, thank you for sending in your question. 

Now, we all procrastinate, it’s part of being human and it is perfectly normal. What we rarely hear about is there are two types of procrastination. The famous negative type—the one where you don’t do what you had planned to do and the positive type—the one where your brain engages your subconscious mind and develops great ideas and solves problems you thought were impossible to solve. 

Now when people talk about procrastination they are inevitably talking about the negative kind. The one that finds you watching puppy videos on YouTube instead of writing that urgent email to your most important customer. 

Why do we do that? Well, it’s more often than not linked to a fear of failure. That’s the number one reason we procrastinate. We fear we will screw up, we fear we will be embarrassed by what we do. This is why when we are not clear about something, rather than ask the question about what something means, we procrastinate and not do anything about it. That appears a safer option than risking looking stupid by asking what might be an obvious question. 

Procrastination is built into our human psyche as a safety mechanism and if you procrastinate a lot it does not mean you have a problem. It just means you are normal, but are more aware you are procrastinating than most people. That’s a good thing. Seriously!

It’s far better to acknowledge you procrastinate—because we all do—instead of telling yourself you are naturally lazy and that is just the way you are. That thought might not be completely true. Yes, humans are naturally lazy. We naturally take the path of least resistance. To not be lazy takes a lot of willpower and discipline but that is something completely different from procrastinating. 

So how do we prevent ourselves from procrastinating?

Well, first up is awareness. You need to be aware of when you are procrastinating. Catch yourself doing it. Knowing what you do when you procrastinate (in the negative sense) is the first step to overcoming it. Do you flip through your Instagram or Facebook feed? Do you watch unrelated videos on YouTube? Do you suddenly begin cleaning your desk or removing old files from your computer’s hard drive? What do you usually do when you find yourself procrastinating. 

When you recognise the signs you are procrastinating it is much easier to stop yourself. It also allows you to ask yourself why? Why are you procrastinating? What are you afraid of? I love that question because it shocks me into thinking about what the fear is. 

That’s because it’s almost always related to fear.

It took me six months to record my first YouTube video! Seriously, six months! Why? Because I was ‘afraid’ to be on camera. I’ve always preferred being behind the camera rather than in front of it. This fear manifested itself by convincing me to “think about topics” to “plan out the way I would record the videos” and to research the best equipment to make a YouTube video. My favourite phrase at that time was “I just need to…” 

Once I realised all this was BS—and I thank Gary Vaynerchuk for this because I remember seeing a video he did on the phrase “I’m gonna” that woke me up to the excuses I was making (I’ll put a link in the show notes to that video) I finally did my first video. That first video was the start of an incredible journey and a journey that has completely changed my life in so many positive ways. 

Recognising you are procrastinating and understanding what the fear behind it is will do so much to help you overcome it. 

Nine times out of ten the fear will be a fear of failure. You are afraid you will screw up. The thing is, you are going to screw up, you are going to fail. It’s how we learn as humans. 

I’ve been watching my nephew learn to walk. He pulls himself up on the sofa, looks around and tries to take an unaided step and as soon as he lets go of the sofa he falls down. Again and again, he falls. But we don’t turn round and say, “oh well never mind. I guess he’s not going to be a walker”. We encourage him to keep trying until he can walk unaided. All those mistakes are part of the learning process. It’s in the not giving up and trying one more time that eventually leads to kids being able to walk unaided and that leads to the next step and the next. 

In a work environment, picking up the phone and calling the angry customer to sort out their problem will always be easier than worrying about what the customer might say or do. The worrying is always a lot worse than the actual call. Sure, the customer might shout and scream at you down the phone, but by making the call you have taken the one step you were afraid of and can now move on to the next step of turning that customer from an angry unhappy customer into your biggest fan. 

So, what can you do to overcome procrastination once you have identified you are procrastinating? 

What has worked for me and many of my clients is to schedule the work on my calendar. Let’s say you have an angry customer and you know you have been putting off making the call, what you need to do is to set a time for when you will call the customer. Let’s say you schedule the call for 11:30am. Put that on your calendar. Write something like “call Miss Angry about her problem”. To really make that time stick, send the customer a message either by text or email telling them you will call at 11:30am. Now you cannot escape—well you could, but you would be making a bad situation onto a worse situation. 

If you have been putting off writing a report, Schedule thirty minutes to write. I like to use the words “begin writing report on regional sales in the first quarter” rather than “write report”. Using the words “begin writing” lowers the expectation enough for my brain not to overthink the work. “Begin writing” means if I only write 500 words, I can still claim I have completed the task. After that, I use words like “continue writing…” If you write 500 hundred words every day for five days you have a 2,500-word report. 

Another trick you can use is the momentum trick. This involves building momentum so you eventually reach a spot where momentum carries you through to completion. For example, if you wanted to find another job there are a number of things that need to happen for you to apply for a new job. Things like, update your resume, research job openings, draft out a cover letter etc. 

In your to-do list or notes app, you can create a list of tasks you need to perform and once that list is complete you start at the top and tell yourself you will complete one task per day until all tasks have been completed. So, day one you might update your resume, day two you write out your cover letter. Day three, you find ten jobs you want to apply to. Day four you apply for those ten jobs etc. Over a period of five days, you will have moved a significant way towards a new job. 

The rule is you one thing every day. No excuses. 

Finally, the one thing that works for me every time is to plan the work I will do the next day the day before. Every day, before I close out the day I sit down with my to-do list and calendar open and I plan out what I will work on the next day. For those of you familiar with my work you know about the 2+8 Prioritisation method. This is where I select two tasks as my objectives for the day and up to eight other tasks that I would really like to complete. This means I close the day knowing what I want to accomplish the next day and I begin the day with a clear plan on the work I will do that day. 

I don’t always complete the eight tasks, but I rarely fail to hit my two objectives. It’s when I don’t have a plan for the day I find I procrastinate. Having a plan allows me to start the day with a purpose and a focus and that keeps procrastination away. 

One more thing I should mention before I end is if you are not getting enough sleep, you will find you procrastinate a lot more. Now, this is not usually associated with fear, but more a lack of willpower. A lack of sleep dramatically reduces your willpower and discipline because your brain is tired it just wants to stop. If you do find you are procrastinating over something and you did not get enough sleep the night before, it’s much more likely caused by tiredness rather than fear.

I hope that has helped you a little Janet. Remember, if you do catch yourself procrastinating ask yourself what it is you fear. Then, break down the task into steps you can take and just do the first step. Fear is not a physical thing, it’s a mental thing and understanding the fear, what’s causing it and rationalising it so you can take the first step is going to build the momentum you need to move forward on the task.

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

 

How To Choose The Right Set Of Apps For A Great Productivity System

How To Choose The Right Set Of Apps For A Great Productivity System

February 24, 2020

Podcast 121

This week we have a question all about apps and choosing the best combination of apps for you. 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Productivity Masterclass | Create Your Own Custom Workflow

Carl’s YouTube Channel

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Carl Pullein Learning Centre 

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 121

Hello and welcome to episode 121 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week it’s all about which apps to choose for your productivity system and how to choose them. With apps like Wunderlist and Newton Mail closing down, this week has been a timely reminder that the apps we choose for our system are important. Choose the wrong apps and you spend a lot of time having to transfer your information from one app to another when it closes down or becomes too expensive to manage. Choose the right app and your system and the app can now together. 

But before we get into this week’s question don’t forget if you are ready to move beyond the to-do list my Productivity Masterclass Workflow course will do that for you. This is a brand new course designed to teach you how to create workflows in your day so you create enough time to focus on the things you want to focus on.

Full details of the course 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 Myke. Myke asks: Hi Carl, I am a very heavy Apple user, and I love their products. I think they could be the key to my productivity if utilised properly. I have an iMac at home, and iMac at work, a MacBook pro for when on the go, an iPad, and an iPhone - as well as multiple Homepods throughout my home. What productivity "stack" would you recommend for someone like myself?

Thank you Myke for your question. 

I’ve always felt the benefit of sticking with built-in apps is you are much less likely to have an app you rely on shut down on you. Just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve received notifications about two popular apps closing down. Wunderlist and Newton Mail (again) and this is certainly something that concerns me. 

Part of building a productivity system is consistency. The amount of time it takes to not only get your stuff into a system, and that time can be a lot, a more important element is the trust you have for that system. If you don't trust your system then it is not working. This means if you are planning on using third-party apps you need to make sure the apps you are using the companies behind them are structurally and financially sound. 

A couple of years ago I used Newton Mail as my email app of choice. It was wonderfully simple and minimalist and it had everything I needed in an email app. Then I got a notification to say they were closing down. 

Several months later, I was told they were starting up again and this time it would be different because they had a big financial backer. And then last week we were told they were closing down again. 

Fortunately, this time I was not going to make the same mistake so did not return to Newton. I set up Apple Mail on all my devices and while there are a few features that are lacking such as scheduled sending which I did use in Newton, it was no big deal and scheduled sending is rather less important than having an app that will not go away. Apple Mail has been a Mail app I have used for nearly twenty years and it is solid and dependable.

I also know a lot of people who invested time and effort into Wunderlist and we now know that will be closing down in May. That has been on the horizon for a while now, but the end date is finally approaching and if you are a Wunderlist user you only have three months to migrate to another app. 

This makes things difficult for other app developers. Trust is a big issue for anyone wanting to build a strong productivity system and if there is any uncertainty then people are not going to invest their time and money in an app that may or may not be around in five years time. 

Evernote is an app that I have used for over ten years. It has always been solid, dependable and has been a huge part of my digital life. Unfortunately, these days their lack of development and the competitive state of the notes app market with apps like Notion, Bear Notes and Apple Notes have created a huge mountain for it to climb if it wants to get back to being one of the top note-taking apps. The good news is Evernote is apparently cash positive and it does have a loyal following. My worry is if the updated Evernote does not meet customer expectations (which are incredibly high after more than a year of back end development) what happens next? 

I have found Evernote difficult to use on my iPhone since iOS13 came out so I have been using Apple Notes more and more and have now found workarounds for many of the things I used to do in Evernote that Apple Notes cannot do. Until recently, Evernote was one of the first apps I opened in a morning on my computer, now I open is only a couple of time per week. Personally I hope and pray Evernote’s impending update will not disappoint, but if it does I already have a replacement at the ready. 

So what can we do? Well if you want to be completely protected the best advice I can give is go with the built-in apps. That means if you are in the Apple ecosystem where possible use the Apple apps. 

Apple Notes is a serious contender in the notes app market now. It’s free and has an impressive set of features. The Apple Reminders update last September gave this built-in to-do list some much-needed love and now has quite an impressive feature set 

And Apple Calendar has been a solid calendar app for over twenty years. There are a few features it could do with, like the ability to allow people to book times on a public calendar, but it is a very dependable calendar app. 

Microsoft has a solid set of productivity apps too. Outlook is the industry standard for most companies when it comes to email and calendar and OneNote is one of the best note-taking apps out there. 

For your To-dos, Microsoft To-Do is likely to become a solid to-do list manager in the near future, particularly if it does incorporate many of the features Wunderlist had. 

And of course, Google has it’s own Tasks and Keep and has probably the best calendar app out there

The problem with using these built-in mainstream apps is you do not get a lot of features and if something does not work properly it can be a long time before they are updated. But they are unlikely to disappear, they are simple to set up and simple to use. And in my experience, it does not take a lot of time to learn how to use them. 

That said, the biggest thing to remember is the app you use is rather less important than the system you set up. As long as the apps you are using are dependable and you allow enough time to learn how to use them then almost any app out there is going to do the job for you. App switching is time-wasting and can be a huge cause of procrastination. I’ve always said pick one app and stick with it for a year. That gives you enough time to learn how to use it properly and develop workarounds for the things you want to be able to do with it. 

My recent organisational change in my to-do list manager could easily be created in any type of app. So far I have shown how to set it up in Apple Reminders and Todoist and in the coming weeks, I plan to show how this could be set up in Trello and TeuxDeux. These apps are very different and yet a simple organisational system can be set up in any of them. That’s why your ‘system’ is more important than the apps you are using. Another reason why your system is more important than the apps you use is if the worst-case scenario does happen and the app you are using shuts down or becomes prohibitively expensive, you can quickly and easily transfer your data across to new apps. 

So there is a lot to be said for using built-in apps. They are reliable, consistent and have just enough features to be able to do what you need them to do. 

Let’s take the Google suite of productivity apps as an example. Given that all you need is a calendar, a to-do list manager, a notes app and a cloud storage drive. With Google, you have them all. Because of the way Google has added plugins and extensions to their Chrome browser, you can build an amazing productivity dashboard using Chrome. Gmail can operate your email, and if an email comes in you can quickly add it as a task to Google tasks or highlight a section in the email and add it as a note to Google Keep.

Another great feature of Google Keep is you can create mini (or full) checklists and all sorts of other types of notes and have them easily accessible as a side panel in your browser. 

Microsoft office also now allows you to add add-ons to Outlook so you have quick access to your calendar, to-dos and notes from your Outlook window. And of course, all your files can be stored in OneDrive. 

If I were to completely start again with building my own productivity system, given all my devices are Apple, I would set everything up using only the Apple apps. Apple’s sharing functionality across all their devices makes adding tasks, notes and events incredibly easy and iCloud storage is cheap - $10 for 2 terabytes of storage. 

So, if you want to build your very own productivity system, today I would advise you to start with using the built-in apps your devices come with. If you are in the Apple eco-system like you, Myke, I would use Reminders, Apple Notes, Apple Calendar and iCloud. If I were predominantly a Windows user I would use Microsofts apps and if I were hybrid ie, my computers were Windows and my phone was either an iPhone or Android phone I would go with the Google set. 

Only after at least six months would I consider third party apps and would only change if I was having some serious difficulties managing my work with the apps I was using. 

I hope that answers your question, Myke. Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. 

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

 

Why You Should Always Question Your Assumptions

Why You Should Always Question Your Assumptions

February 17, 2020

This week, in a special episode, I explain why it is important to question your assumptions about how you go about doing your work and achieving your goals. 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Productivity Masterclass | Create Your Own Custom Workflow

Carl’s YouTube Channel

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Carl Pullein Learning Centre 

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 120

Hello and welcome to episode 120 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Last week, on my YouTube channel, I posted my latest Todoist setup and it sparked quite a lot of questions. In recent months my whole to-do list organisation structure has gone through some radicle changes and that was because when I began my annual systems review last October, I decided not only would I look at how I was organising and managing my work, I would also question my assumptions about how I think a to-do list manager should be organised. 

Before I get into explaining my thinking and why I changed my system so radically, I just want remind you that my Productivity Mastermind course on building your own workflows is out now and the early bird discount period will be ending tomorrow (Tuesday).

This course takes you beyond the to-do list manager and into building a custom daily workflow for yourself then ensures you get your most important work done each day and gives you a framework to focus on making daily 1% improvements to the way you do your work and live your life so you are always making progress on your goals and developing the right habits to build the life you want for yourself. 

It’s a great course and will transform the way you work today to a more effective way of building on habits and making improvements where you identify you want to make improvements.

Full joining details are in the show notes. 

Now, like most people who have read and implemented David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach, system, method or best practices (whichever way you want to call it) I bought into the belief there were just two ways to organise my to-dos. By context—people, place or thing—and by project. And for the last eleven years, that's how I have organised my to-dos. 

At various times I had up to fifty project folders and well over twenty to thirty different contexts. After all, this was the way to organise things right? I needed a place where I could review all my projects, open loops and tasks. 

Now, I guess like most people who have thrown their hats into the GTD ring, you quickly discover that you are spending a lot of time reviewing stuff. There's a quick daily review and there's the massive weekly review--The one or two hours each week where you review everything—On top of that you need to regularly process your inbox (at least every 48 hours) It often felt like I was doing more reviewing than actual doing, which never seemed right to me for a method or system that claimed to help you to “get things done”.

One of the funniest things I have come across are GTD purists telling people if they are not doing a full weekly review each week they are not practising GTD. This completely misses the point. It’s called “Getting Things Done, not “Getting Reviews Done”. The whole point is doing the work, not reviewing the work. That’s just the old proverbial shuffling papers to look busy trick. It doesn't get the work done. It just reorganises work. 

Now, of course, knowing what work you have on and where everything is is important, but you should not be spending so much time reviewing stuff either. If you apply a little common sense you would know where a project status is and what needs doing next—or if you are properly engaged with your work you should do.

As I was questioning my assumptions, I began wondering why I needed to organise my lists by projects and contexts. For me contexts have never worked well and since I have been able to do almost all my work on my iPhone as well as a laptop and so in recent years I have pretty much completely stopped using them. 

I should point out that I am self-employed and don't work with a team of people, so I’ve never needed a context related to people and as I can do my work from almost anywhere I don't need any place contexts either. 

As I analysed how I use a to-do list, I noticed I was creating lists of tasks each day based on my 2+8 Prioritisation method—two objectives and 8 would like to do tasks each day. My routines took care of themselves because they just filtered into my daily list when they were due. So on a day to day basis, it was my Today view that I was looking at. I could not remember the last time I went into a project view. All I wanted to know was what to work on that day and as I did my 2+8 each evening I knew when I began the day what I was going to do anyway. 

This led me to ask if I don't use a project view, how would I like to organise my tasks? Every time I looked at this, I kept coming back to the same thing. “When?” When do I need to see a task? And when do I need to do a task? 

Every time I kept coming back to this I kept seeing the same problem. When you organise by project you feel obliged to review not do. There was something about reviewing that made it feel I was doing something important, but I was actually doing nothing important at all. I was just shuffling papers so to speak. 

There’s a bit of a give away in the title of a to-do list. It’s a “to-do” list, not a to-review list. If I need to review something I can create a task that says “review ABC report progress”. 

What happens when I do want to review a project? Well, there always something around related to that project. For me, it’s likely to be a folder in my files. I have a folder for example for all my online courses. Folder contains all my project work. 

For example, my recent Productivity Mastermind course began as an idea in my notes app. Over a period of a few weeks, I added more ideas to that note. Eventually, I decided this could make a great course so I began developing an outline in Numbers. It was at this point the course first appeared in my To-do list manager. The task was “continue working on my Productivity Mastermind course outline”. 

For the next three or four weeks that task continued to come up. I would allocate it a date, say Wednesday. I would work on the task, and once that period of work was complete, I would change the date on the task and schedule it for another day in the future. The Numbers file stayed in my Numbers iCloud folder. So, even at this stage, there was no dedicated folder for the course. There was a task in my to-do list, a note in my notes app and there was a file in my Numbers folder. 

Looking back at this, there was absolutely no reason for me to have a project folder in my to-do list. I only needed one task and I had that. I was not going to forget that task because it was dated, it was current and I was doing a lot of work on the outline. For me to forget about the project, even with all my other work going on at the time, I would need to be suffering from severe amnesia! 

Back then, I had an area of focus project called “online courses” in my to-do list and that was where this task was living, but I also realised if I had a folder called “This Week” or “Current” that task would work in there too. And that is when I began considering “timeboxes” or “time folders” for organising my work. 

Essentially, what I wanted was to spend less time reviewing and organising and more time doing. Reviewing and organising did not get my work done. All it did was remind me of my commitments and often that just caused anxiety and stress. What I wanted was a system that told me what I wanted to, or needed to, do and when and for the rest of the time get out of my way so I could get on and do the work. When I was doing the work, I was giving myself more time to do the things I wanted to do instead of spending hours in my to-do list manager trying to decide what to do next which meant I was putting myself under unnecessary time pressure. 

So from that initial question: how can I speed up my reviewing and processing? I started asking questions like: Do I really need project folders? Do I need areas of focus? And if I did away with these, how would I organise my to-dos? Leaving them in my inbox would just create an overwhelming list of tasks. 

Again, I came back to time. I wanted to see my to-dos based on when they needed doing, not what project they were related to. I have project folders, I have a parent folder in my cloud storage called “current” so I have a place where my current projects live. If I want to see the current situation with a project, that’s where I would go. That’s where I have always gone. That tells me the real situation. My to-do list might not be up-to-date. My project folders are always up to date because they are live, they are real. 

So after completing this review I had a set of radicle ideas about how I wanted my to-do list to work, the next question was could I really organise things without project folders? Like most people I was wedded to the idea to-do list managers had to be organised by project folders. I could not imagine not having project folders. It was inconceivable, right? I mean how else can a to-do list manager be organised? 

It was very hard to get over this thinking. This belief that projects folders were necessary. But the more I looked at it the more I saw this was simply not true. In fact, the more I looked at it the more I realised project folders were slowing me down. They were creating unnecessary anxiety and they were places tasks could disappear and never be seen again until it was too late—or I added some arbitrary date so I did not forget about it making my today list meaningless. 

So, I decided to take the plunge. I removed all my project folders in my to-do list manager and replace them with folders related to time. I created six folders. This week, next week, this month, next month and long-term. I also retained my routines as these just had to be done on a specific day so nothing needed to change there. 

Now, I have covered this set up on my YouTube channel in both my Apple Reminders video and Todoist. If you want to see these folders in action, head over there. The links are in the show notes.

What happened was something remarkable. By no longer having contexts and projects to think about I didn’t need to waste time thinking about where tasks went or what I needed to complete the task. Instead, all I had to think about was when was I going to do the task; this week, next week, later this month or next month or beyond? This was so liberating! Processing time halved. It was so easy to just have to think about when I wanted to do a task. If I got it wrong it was not a problem because I would see it when I did my next weekly planning session. 

And those weekly planning sessions instead of taking 40 to 60 minutes to complete now only took 20 minutes! When I first did it I thought I must have missed something because I have become accustomed to taking about an hour each Sunday afternoon. But no, when I double-checked, I hadn’t missed anything and I had wonderfully planned weeks that occasionally I don’t manage to complete the tasks for the week, but these can easily be rolled over to the following week. 

So there you go. That’s why I have changed the way I organise my to-dos. I have finally got away from the false belief that everything must be organised by project or context. That anything involving more than one step must be a project and I need to organise my tasks with next actions and complete a full weekly review every week. 

Now I have a system that works for me. And I must stress that. This system works for me. It may not work for you. What I would say is don’t get trapped by the thinking of other people. Don’t always believe that what you read in a book or see in a video or article must be the correct way to do things. It is not. There are always other ways and some of those might be better for you. Robin Sharma advocates waking up at 5AM every morning. I tried that for a year, but as I have coaching calls often at 11PM not finishing until after midnight waking up at 5AM does not work for me. Waking up at 7:00AM does. 

Likewise, GTD contexts do not work for me, they never have, yet I spent years thinking I was doing something wrong because I could not get them to work for me. The reality was I was not doing anything wrong, it was the way I had set up my workflows that meant I did not need contexts. 

So find your own way, find a way that works for the way you think, the way you work and the way you want to see your tasks presented. Being more productive is not about the system, it is about being able to get your work done in the most efficient and effective way you can so you can spend more of your time doing the things you want to do with the people you want to doing them with. 

Thank you for listening to this episode. I hope you got a lot of value from it. Feel free to ask me anything you like either by email carl@carlpullein.com or by DMing on Facebook or Twitter. And if you want to see this set up in action, head over to my YouTube channel. 

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

 

How To Organise Your Projects and Tasks

How To Organise Your Projects and Tasks

February 10, 2020

How do you organise all your projects and to-dos? Do you organise by project, context or some other way? Well that’s the question I’ll be answering this week.

 

Links:

 

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

 

Productivity Masterclass | Create Your Own Custom Workflow

Carl’s YouTube Channel

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Carl Pullein Learning Centre 

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 119

Hello and welcome to episode 119 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a well-timed question about how to organise your to-do list manager and your work. Well-timed because I recently I changed the way I organise my to-dos and projects to better reflect the way I work today and I have been getting a lot of questions about this new set up. So, it seems appropriate to answer this question this week. 

Now, before we get to this weeks question. My first Productivity Masterclass course has now launched and I am excited to tell you this course will transform your days. The course teaches you how to build your very own daily workflow. We don’t achieve our goals and objectives by luck or chance, we achieve them by taking small deliberate steps every day. We achieve through our routines and habits and all you need is a workflow you create for yourself that you can follow that takes you a step closer every day. 

This is what the Productivity Masterclass is all about. It teaches you how to build your own workflow that reflects the type of work you do and the way you manage your personal life. It gives you the tools you need to build your own workflow that will take you in the direction you want to go. Whether that’s to earn a promotion at work, to build your own business, prepare yourself for retirement or prepare yourself for the challenges of a career change. Wherever you are in life, this course is designed to help you create the future you want to live in. 

Now there is an early bird discount period you can take advantage of by signing up today. So don’t miss out on this chance to start building your future through your daily actions and save yourself a little money today. 

All the details of this course are in the show notes.

Okay, 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 Anna. Anna asks, Hi Carl, I’m really struggling to find the best way to organise my projects and to-dos. I’ve read Getting Things Done and I think I understand it, but I am confused about how to organise my projects. Can you help? 

Hi Anna, firstly, thank you for your question. I find this is a very common question for a lot of people who have read Getting Things Done (GTD) because David Allen intentionally left how to structure your stuff vague. I say “intentionally” because David understands we are all different and we all have different ways of thinking and organising our stuff. 

That said, I feel there is a problem with the way people follow the GTD book and that is what I call the “because David Allen says…” problem. This is where a person takes everything written in the GTD book literally and tries to build the ‘perfect’ GTD system. You see the thing is, the ‘perfect’ GTD system does not exist. It can’t exist because machines are not operating GTD. Humans are and we have emotions, variable energy levels and are prone to be distracted from the work that we want to or should be getting done. 

If you have read the most recent version of GTD, the 2015 version, you would still need to go out and buy yourself a load of file folders, a labelling machine and a set of drawers to keep your project files in to follow the book. In reality, I’ve not needed any of those things for around eight or nine years. I went completely paperless three years ago and even had a small ceremony to celebrate when I threw my printer away. 

This is one of the reasons I developed COD three or four years ago. COD stands for Collect Organise and Do and takes the core, fundamentals of GTD—the capturing and the organising and simplifies it so you can create your own way of managing your commitments and work. 

If you step back and think about what a good productivity system needs to do for you it needs to give you a simple and fast way to collect your stuff—your ideas, your to-dos and your commitments. It needs an ‘easy to find stuff’ organisation system and it needs to get out of the way so you can spend the majority of your time getting your work done. The more time you spend in your system organising, tweaking and searching for stuff, the less time you have to do the work that needs doing. 

So COD is all about maximising the time you have available to do your work and minimising the time needed to organise your stuff. Essentially, COD is all about maximising your ‘doing’ time. 

So what is the best way to organise your work? 

Like most people who have read a lot of time management books over the years, I got caught up in believing the only way to organise my work was by project. This meant the best way to organise things was to create the same project folders in my notes app, my to-do list manager and my files on my computer. Then, when a new idea, commitment or task came in all I had to do was decide what something was and what project it belonged to.

Sounds simple yes? The problem is a lot of the stuff we collect each day does not neatly fit into specific projects. So we have to create new projects or have a single actions folder for all those unspecified (or I can’t decide where it goes) tasks, ideas and commitments. Pretty soon you find you have a huge list of projects (and sub-projects) that now need a lot of reviewing just to stay on top of. When you are reviewing you are not doing and so now you may have captured everything, but you have a lot less time to do your work because all that captured stuff needs managing. 

So what is the best way to organise everything? 

When I did my annual systems review last year, I realised organising all my stuff by project was not working effectively. I also realised that GTD contexts no longer worked for me. I rarely ever looked at a context list and I was not working from any particular project view. I worked from my daily list of tasks and my calendar. My calendar told me where I needed to be and when and my to-do list told me what tasks I wanted to get done that day. When looked at that way, I saw a much simpler way of organising my work. By time.

What I mean by organising by time is all the work you have needs to be done by a particular time. Some tasks are more time-sensitive than others. For example, if a client asks you to send them a document by the end of the day, then that task is more time-sensitive than cleaning your living room. Both are tasks that need doing, but one needs doing urgently—ie today, while the other may be nice to do today, but it could just as easily be done tomorrow or at the weekend or even next week. 

If you organise your work by time—when a task needs to be done—then after collecting the task the only decision you need to make is when are you going to do that task? There may be other decisions like how much time will you need to complete this task? But essentially even with that knowledge what you really need to decide is when are you going to have time to do the task? 

This led me to realise project folders were not always helpful. In fact, project folders often created several problems. The first one was that it was easy to throw a task into a project folder and forget about it therefore run the risk you would miss the deadline or only discover the task again when the deadline was imminent. To overcome this risk, you had to add a date. Okay, that’s fine. But what about a task that was not particularly time-sensitive or urgent. In that case, you added an arbitrary date for sometime in the future only to find on the date you gave it you had a lot of other tasks and so it had to be rescheduled. 

This can happen to a lot of these tasks so your daily to-do list is no longer a to-do list for that day, it becomes a hope to do list. Hope to do lists are useless. There’s no motivation to do the tasks and you spend too much time rescheduling and feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks. 

With all these rescheduled tasks being given new dates it creates a vicious circle. There is no end to non-essential tasks coming at you every day and your daily to-do list keeps growing and becoming more overwhelming and stressful by the day. 

So what is the solution? 

Organise your tasks by time. 

What I mean by this is you really only need six folders in your to-do list manager. These are:

This week

Next week

This month

Next month

Long-term

Routines

When you organise by time in this way the only decisions you need to make are when will you do your tasks? For example, if I am given a task that needs to be completed by Friday all I have to do add a date for when I will do the task (probably Thursday) and drop it in my “this week” folder. If I have a task that does not need doing until next week or later this month, then I can drop it into my “next week” or “this month” folder. I don’t need to add a date at this stage because I can decide when I will do it when I do my weekly planning session at the end of the week.

Processing your inbox becomes easy. You no longer have to think about what project a task belongs to and when you will do it, you only have to decide when you will do a task. You do not have to create more and more projects (in GTD a project is anything that requires more than one task to complete which can result in a huge list of projects).

Now, as long as you do at least a weekly planning session each week, which with this method does not require a lot of time—you really only need to pull forward your next week’s tasks to this week’s tasks and review your this month folder—you will be ensuring you don’t miss anything important and you will be hitting your deadlines. 

Now for this way of organising your tasks to work you do need to have a paradigm shift in your thinking. For anyone who has read books and articles on organising your to-dos you will have a belief that you should organise your work by project. For this time-based way to organise your work, you will need to start thinking about when you will do your tasks rather than what a task is connected to. It can be hard to shift your thinking, but when you do, you will have a system that is easy to manage, simple to keep on top of and will allow you more time to get on and do the work instead of organising your work. 

Recently, on my YouTube channel, I have posted a couple of videos showing how to implement this system using Todoist and Apple Reminders. In future videos, I will show how to implement it using other to-do list apps so if you want to see this way of organising your to-dos in action, then head over to my YouTube channel. The link for which is in the show notes. 

Thank you, Anna for your question. The real answer to your question is to choose a way to organise your tasks that works for you. What might work for David Allen, me or anyone else, may not necessarily work for you. What’s important is the way you organise must work for the way you work.

I hope this answer has helped you. 

Thank you also to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering, all you have to do is email me at carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. 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 Say “No” Without Upsetting People.

How To Say “No” Without Upsetting People.

February 3, 2020

This week’ it’s all about saying “no” to new opportunities and interrupting colleagues.

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Carl Pullein Learning Centre 

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Time And Life Mastery Course

 

Script

Episode 118

Hello and welcome to episode 118 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

One of the hardest things for me is to say “no” to new opportunities. There’s a little voice inside me that says this could be the one that will take me to the next level or if I say no to this, this person will be very disappointed and upset. Then I end up resenting that person for putting me in this situation in the first place. 

While we may have developed a fantastic productivity system, being unable to say “no” can put a drag on anyone’s ability to get the important things done. 

Now, before we get to this week’s question and answer, I'd like to let you know I have been hard at work developing a brand new course. This course, How to Build your own Daily Workflow is a result of all the things I have learned from my coaching practice about where people struggle with getting their work done and how to build a structure into your life so you stay on top of everything going on in your life. 

The course will show you how to develop your own daily workflow so you stay focused on what you have decided is important while at the same time managing your regular routine work. 

So if you are looking for a way to stay on top of everything coming your way as well as have the time to develop your goals and side projects have a look at the course. This is one course that will help to reduce your stress and overwhelm by giving you a solid structure to your day. You will be able to find the details for the course in the show notes. 

Okay, 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 Joshua. Joshua asks, hi Carl, I am having real problems turning down my colleagues’ requests. They are always interrupting me and asking me to help them but I have my own work to do. I don't want to upset them or cause any problems in the office. Do you have any strategies for dealing with these kinds of interruptions? 

Great question, Joshua. Thank you for sending it in. I know you are not alone with this difficulty. As human beings, we are hard-wired not to disappoint. So we find it difficult

To say no to requests. This is why I have always envied people who have those gatekeepers—assistants employed to say “no” for you—I’ve seen those tv shows where the hero shouts “cancel my appointments this afternoon!” Or “Clear my diary for the rest of the week!—oh how easy that sounds. Not having to deal with people’s disappointment. Not having to tell someone you cannot make your commitment etc. 

But for most of us, we don't have the luxury of having an assistant to say “no” for us. For the rest of us, we have to say “no” ourselves. So how can we do that without feeling guilty? 

One thing you can do is set up some boundaries. What is important to you? If, for example having dinner with your family every evening is important to you, then create a boundary around that time. Make it non-negotiable. If, say, you tell people that between 6:30pm and 8pm you always have dinner with your family and you make that non-negotiable, pretty soon the people you come into contact with regularly will learn your habits and will not interrupt you. 

Part of making saying no easier is being consistent. An example for me is Friday afternoons. Friday afternoons is when I record my YouTube videos and so between 1pm and 4pm on a Friday is non-negotiable. I occasionally have a language student ask to rearrange their class for a Friday afternoon. Almost as soon as the “f” of Friday comes out of their mouth I have already apologised and said no. Friday afternoons are non-negotiable and any opportunity I get, I tell people that. 

One of the reasons we feel saying no is so difficult is because we think by saying no to someone they will be stuck without our help. The truth is likely to be a lot less dramatic. If we cannot help, there is always going to be someone else who can help them. And that someone else may have a lot more time than we do, so you are doing the person asking a huge favour. If you say yes to something and are not totally committed to the task at hand, would you say that is being fair?

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to say “no” is to tell someone I don’t have time. I only use this when that is true, of course. This week, for example, I am putting the finishing touches to my new course, I am preparing a video for a webinar I’m invited to speak at and I am in the process of making some minor changes to the way I record my YouTube videos. When I look at my calendar for the week, I can see very quickly I do not have a great deal of spare time. So, if someone asks me if I can teach an extra class, do an extra call or write an article for them, I know this week is not going to be possible. Instead, I will offer an alternative—say in two or three weeks time. If the person asking agrees, then I can schedule that. 

And that is where you can really help yourself. Often, because we find it so difficult to say no, we say yes just to get out of a difficult situation. Then when we stop, look at our calendars, we discover there is no time to fit that extra task in. This is one of the reasons I tell people their calendar is their most powerful weapon. It does not lie. It shows you very clearly where you are committed and how much spare time you have available. Use it. It will help to stop you from over-committing yourself. 

Okay, so those are some of the foundations you can use to make sure you are not over-committed. How can you deal with those interruptions that come your way in your workplace? 

Okay, the first one is a simple one. Use headphones. Whenever you do not want to be disturbed, put on a pair of headphones. Even if you are not listening to anything. When people see you with a pair of headphones on they are less likely to interrupt you. This is because to get your attention, they are going to have to move out from their own workspace and come over to you and tap you on the shoulder instead of calling out across the room. When you have a pair of headphones on you are conveying a subtle message not to disturb you. I’ve found this one works all the time. It takes a very brave soul to interrupt someone wearing headphones. 

Now, if you really need to carve out some deep work time, you are going to have to be more intentional. Whenever I need uninterrupted time to work on something, I will always go find a quiet place to do it. These days, most offices have meeting rooms and if you can, try to use one for your uninterrupted deep work sessions. Like using headphones while sat at your desk, when a person sees you in a room working with the door closed, they are unlikely to interrupt you unless it is really important. When you do this, I would always tell your colleagues you need a couple of hours to work on something uninterrupted. People, when asked to leave you alone, are very accommodating. A lot of time people interrupt us because we appear open to interruption. If we tell people we need some quiet time to get on with our most important work, they are much more likely to respect that and leave you alone. 

Now how do you handle a person who is being insistent? Here you are just going to have to be honest. This is the hardest and it’s even more difficult if the person insisting is your boss or an important client. In these situations, you are going to have to make a decision based on priorities and values. 

Priorities because sometimes the work you are currently working on has an imminent deadline and you just have to finish that first. And values because we all have values that have a greater priority over anything else. Greg McKeown, author of the book Essentialism tells the story of when his wife was expecting his first child. A colleague told him that if his wife gave birth on Friday it would be very inconvenient because he was needed at an important meeting. As fate would have it, his wife did give birth on the Friday and he did attend the meeting. It was then he realised that there are some things in life where you just have to say no because something else—based on your values—has a much higher priority. For me, family is the highest priority. 

Other areas where my values take priority is my exercise time. I know how important exercise is to my overall health and wellbeing. When I am not exercising, my work suffers. So, I say no to appointments between 2pm and 3pm, unless I can schedule my exercise time at another time that day or I am doing a two or three-day workshop. In those situations, because I am on my feet teaching all day, I count that as exercise. I know, I am lucky, I have control over my day and how I spend it, but that does not mean I can say no to everything, I do have clients, some very important clients and I cannot always say not to them. But I can negotiate times with them.

Finally, there is the “I’m a bit busy at the moment, can you come back later?” Response. This works on a lot of different levels. Firstly, anyone attempting to interrupt you will generally respect your time, and secondly, in most cases, the person will find the answer to their problem without having to come back and bother you again. It also teaches people that you can and will say no occasionally when you need to. 

Ultimately, the art of saying no is something that needs practice. It will always be hard to do it, but developing a few strategies, having a few boundaries that your colleagues, customers and bosses understand and being consistent and honest with people will make it easier. Remember, whenever you do say yes to something you are also saying no to something else. It’s far better to say yes to the things you want to do than to say no to those and yes to things you do not want to do.

Good luck, Joshua. I know it will be hard, but try some of these tips and find the ones that work best for you. Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. 

Don’t forget, if you have a question toy would like answering, then just email me at carl@carlpullein.com or you can 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 to Review Your Productivity System

How to Review Your Productivity System

January 27, 2020

How often do you do a complete review of your system? That’s the question I’m answering this week. 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Carl Pullein Learning Centre 

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Time And Life Mastery Course

 

Script

Episode 117

Hello and welcome to episode 117 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I have a fantastic question about reviewing your productivity system and what you should review and why. Our environment and work are in constant change, perhaps not big changes, but little changes and over time these changes need to be reflected in our productivity systems. 

As part of reviewing any system, I should point out that if you have already taken the COD course (that’s Collect, Organise and Do) then redoing the course is a great way to review your overall system. It should help you to refocus on the basics and re-evaluate your objectives for any system.

If you haven’t already taken the course, you can do so for FREE. It’s around forty minutes long and will give the basics of setting up your very own COD productivity course. 

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 Stuart. Stuart asks: Hi Carl, I’ve heard you mention that you regularly review your whole system. Could you tell me why you do that, how often and what do you review when you do it? 

Thank you, Stuart, for the question. You’re right, I do review my system. I do it once or twice a year. I feel it’s important to periodically review my system because things change. What worked for me two years ago likely does not work as efficiently today. And that's because not only do our work and work scope change so does who we are and how we work. 

The question though, is how often should you review your system? Well, here we need to be careful. Too frequently and you never allow any system to settle and become automatic. It can also be used as an excuse to try new apps when your current apps may not be the problem. 

So, for me, I review my system every six months or so. Six months feels like the ‘perfect’ time and it also means my reviews do not last too long. 

How do you go about doing a review? For me, it starts in my notes app. What I do is I review my previous review’s note. This is great because it will immediately highlight any areas I was looking at in my previous review and in a way it’s a pre-made template. If you don’t delete any part of this note it also becomes a fantastic record of how your system has evolved and grown as you have become better organised and more productive. 

It also means you can add comments about your thinking in the previous review and that helps with the current review. 

So what do we look at?

The first step is to review how you are collecting your stuff. Can you

collect fast and collect seamlessly? In my experience, if there are too many steps to collect you will resist. You may not resist all the time, but resisting just once is enough to miss something important and when you miss something, that creates distrust in your system. You need to trust your system. Without that trust, everything falls apart. 

So how do you collect? Is there any way you could make it faster? Can you collect when you are at your computer just as fast as on your mobile phone? I say that because most people are pretty fast at collecting on their phone—we’re doing so all the time—and not so good on their computer where we collect less frequently. 

Are there any keyboard shortcuts you can set up? If you were to have a brilliant idea, how would you collect that if you were sat at your computer? Are you clicking an icon or using a keyboard shortcut? Remember, keyboard shortcuts are fantastic because they save you a lot of time. 

All these questions are great because they force you to really look at how you are using your system. They pinpoint weaknesses and give you ideas you can use to make things better, smoother and faster. 

How are you organising your files and projects? Is it intuitive? Can you find what you want when you want it? The way we file stuff can often be a barrier to us getting on with our work and if we have no logical system and we cannot find the documents we need we resist and end up procrastinating. 

I find it can be helpful to have all current work in an easily accessible single folder or alternatively you can create links to the documents you are working on and add them to a master list in your notes app or individually in your to-do list. There are a lot of ways you can organise your stuff. The important thing is you organise it in a way you can find your stuff quickly when you need it. 

Another great question to ask is: has there been any complexity creep? Now, this happens to us all. Over time, we add stuff and rarely take it away. An example of this is labels tags or contexts in your to-do list. We add these all the time but rarely go in and purge unused ones. 

In my last review, I realised I did not need labels, contexts or tags in my to-do list. 

Over the last six months or so I have been ruthlessly reducing the number of tasks I do each day. Looking for tasks that will have the biggest impact on my projects and goals and focusing on them. I’ve purged a lot of tasks that do not drive things forward and as a result, I have fewer tasks on my list each day. 

This meant, I found I was no longer using labels (as we call contexts in Todoist) and so I deleted them completely from my system. And there I discovered something I suspected for a while. I don't need labels, contexts or tags. These were just slowing down my processing and not adding anything useful to my overall system. 

All I need is a focus for the day and a list of tasks I can realistically complete. My labels were not helping me at all. I rarely have calls to make or tool-specific work. My calendar contains all my coaching calls for me and inside each of those appointments are the details I need. Labels just felt like a legacy from a bygone era. An era when there were physical barriers between the tools we used—days when we did need a computer to read and reply to email—and the work that needed to be done. None of those barriers exists today. 

I can write blog posts while sat on a bus using my mobile phone. I can make calls from my computer and can ask a colleague a question via text message. Nothing I do is tool, place or people specific anymore. So, I no longer use “contexts”. 

Essentially, my reviews are all about simplifying and minimising. Which is rather apt as my theme for this year is minimalism. Like most people, I have far too much stuff and it’s time to reduce. This means I need to look at my system, reduce it and make sure it is operating at it’s most effective. 

With my productivity system, it is “app creep’” that causes the most problems. App creep is where we add productivity apps because we think they will make us more productive but because of the maintenance involved it does the opposite and we spend too much time updating the extra apps. Once you have the basics, a to-do list manager, a notes app and a calendar you really do not need any more than that. If you do, you need to ask yourself is the time cost involved in keeping up with all these apps giving you a good return on that investment? In my own personal experience, I have not found that to ever be the case. 

Now, occasionally I will test out some apps—particularly ones that are being talked about. Currently, I am testing a meditation app to help get me into the habit of daily meditation and a habit tracker to track my habits—the habit tracker is really to see how effective they are over a three month period. So far it’s been a lot of fun, but I do not anticipate habit trackers becoming an integral part of my system overall. I can do that with my own to-do list manager and once a habit is installed, you no longer need the tracker. Those kinds of apps can very easily be a part of the ‘app creep’.

Finally, to finish off my review I go through all the apps I have on my phone, iPad and computer and remove any I have not used over the last three months. My recent review found a Ryan Air and Aer Lingus app as well as some notes apps I had been testing since I started to have issues with my Evernote iOS app. It’s surprising how many of these you find hidden away in folders taking up space. Remove them. If you need them again in the future, you can always download them again. 

And there you go, Stuart. I full comprehensive rundown of why I do a review and what particularly I look for. I hope it gave you some ideas. Thank you for the question. 

Don’t forget, if you have a question if you have difficulties with time management and productivity, then please send in your question. All you need do is email me—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. 

 

What Does a “Perfect” Productivity System Look Like?

What Does a “Perfect” Productivity System Look Like?

January 20, 2020

How should a great productivity system be working? That’s the question I’m answering this week in the Working With Podcast. 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Carl Pullein Learning Centre 

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Time And Life Mastery Course

 

Script

Episode 116

Hello and welcome to episode 116 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

My guess is if you are listening to this podcast you have some interest in productivity and time management. And for people like us (I certainly have an interest), there is a huge resource of material around that showcases how to set things up so you can become more productive and be more efficient with your time. 

But the question is, with all this advice around, what does an effective, efficient, well-managed productivity system look like? How does it really operate when it comes face to face with everyday life? 

Well, today, I will try to answer those questions.

But first, I just want to give you a heads up that if you enrol in either my Your Digital Life, Time and Life Mastery or Create Your Own Apple Productivity courses you can get my Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life course completely FREE. That’s almost two hours of learning that will help you build momentum towards a life you love living and towards making progress every single day towards whatever you define as success. 

The Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life normally costs over $100s, but for this month only you can get that course for free. So if you are serious about building a great system—a system that works for you—then now would be a fantastic time to pick up one of these courses and begin your journey today.

All the details are in the 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 Natalie. Natalie asks, Hi Carl, I’ve been following your YouTube channel and a lot of other productivity YouTubers as well and you all have different ways of organising and doing things. What I really want to know is what does a ‘perfect’ productivity or time management system look like?

Hi Natalie, thank you for sending in your fantastic question. It’s a question that got me thinking because in a sense you hit upon a very important point. There are a lot of different ways of creating a system, many will work well, a lot will not. The question to ask is how can I build a system that will work for me? 

So, to begin with, let’s ask why do we need a productivity and time management system in the first place? 

If we go back to the era before industrialisation, when we lived an agrarian life, we did not need anything more than a seasonal calendar. We certainly did not need a to-do list manager or a daily diary. Our work was determined by the seasons and the weather. We planted in the spring and we gathered in the autumn. In the summer we looked after our crops and in the winter we cleaned up and repaired our stuff. Very simple really.

Then came industrialisation, but even then the majority of us did not really need elaborate calendars or to-do lists. Factory work was simple. We turned up, went to our work station, did our work and then came home. 

We then became information workers. Now we no longer had a fixed job. Now we were managing information. This changed everything because suddenly nothing was fixed. We became much more reliant on other people for information. Computers needed information inputting and we needed to make sure we had the right information in the right place at the right time. 

Meetings were invented (well, I can’t imagine a farmer 200 years ago having a meeting to decide what to do next can you? It was obvious), water cooler chat and cc’d email. It all became so much more complex and this led to the birth of management consultants whose job it appears was to make things even more complex by creating processes and procedures and managing it all in an Excel file—which rather than reducing a worker’s workload all it did was increase it.

To combat this information overload, we created time management systems, desk diaries and so much more. The question is, did any of this really help us to become more productive and be able to focus on what was really important? I’m not so sure. 

So, to get back to your questions Natalie, what does, a ‘perfect’ productivity system look like in 2020. How can we manage all the inputs that come our way, get our work done and still have time and energy at the end of the day to spend it with the people we really care about?

Well, first up, you should make sure you have the five foundations balanced. That’s have enough sleep, eat the right kinds of foods, drink enough water, take regular exercise and make sure you have a plan for the day. Getting these five areas in balance will go along way towards keeping you energised throughout the day. 

But what kind of system is a perfect system anyway? 

The short answer is any system that works for you and achieves a balance between getting your work done and allowing you the time to do the things you want to do without causing stress or friction. 

Okay, now that we have a kind of working definition, how do we translate that into a system?

The basics of any system is you collect what needs to be done, you make a decision about what needs doing with those things, organise them so you are reminded of them when you need to be reminded of them and you have enough time each day to do the work that needs doing. Simple yes? Well, sort of.

It’s here where I see a lot of people overthinking and over complicating things. 

Really all you need is a way to organise your tasks. Now, for me, I like to organise my tasks into three areas. Active projects—that’s real projects I am currently working on. Routines—those everyday tasks that just need to be done. And my areas of focus—that’s the things I have identified as being important to me. 

My goals, life’s mission and my purpose will fall under my areas of focus. For example, I want to maintain a high level of physical fitness. I identify fitness as being a part of who I am. That’s an area of focus. However, if you look at my physical fitness area of focus you will find there’s hardly anything in there. Why? That’s because maintaining my physical fitness is just something I do. I do not need a task reminding me to workout. It’s scheduled on my calendar. It’s a non-negotiable part of my life. Having a task come up on my to-do list is pointless. I’m going to work out. That’s non-negotiable. 

Now, of course, there’s going to be little things that come up each day. A call you need to make, a follow up that needs doing and an email or two that requires a reply. It’s here where I see people struggling the most. Yet, if you maintain a simple system, you will just set aside some time each day to reply to messages, emails and phone calls. 

In my case, I set aside thirty to sixty minutes each day for communications. This involves replying to emails that need replies, answering questions on my YouTube channel and responding to questions on Twitter or Facebook. It also involves following up on clients and students. Because I have a set, dedicated period of time each day for this, I do not need to feel stressed or overwhelmed. I just go into my email, YouTube and Facebook dashboard and reply. The goal is to get to the bottom, but it’s not a problem if I don’t. As long as the most important, time-sensitive ones are responded to, I feel satisfied. 

And, don’t buy into the idea that you must reply to an email within the hour. This is ridiculous. Email is never urgent. Ever! If something was urgent, you would be contacted by phone or text message. And if you work with someone who does think email is urgent, you should gently educate them to better ways of communicating. 

Once you have a place to keep your tasks, projects and areas you want to focus on, all you need to do is to spend ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day on what I used to call the Golden ten, but realise a better name is the “Focused Ten”. That’s the ten tasks you want to get completed tomorrow. I pick two objectives—the two tasks I will complete whatever happens—and eight other tasks that I will do whatever I can to complete, but it would not be the end of the world if I were unable to do. 

Now because my tasks are organised into active projects and areas of focus it is very easy to do a quick look through all my active projects and select my ten tasks. Most of the time these are already pre-selected because I always do a weekly review. Once a week, I review all my active projects and decide what I will work on the next week. 

And that’s really all there is to it. The stuff I collect each day gets processed at the end of the day into their respective projects or areas—or more often than not just get completed directly from my inbox. 

Once you do have a system in place the trick is to spend as little time as possible in there. You see, the more time you spend inside your ‘system’ the less time you spend doing the work. That is when you find you have less time for the things you want to spend time doing. So, keep things simple, don’t create complex hierarchies of projects, sub-projects and todos. Organise things in their natural places, give yourself some time at the end of each day to plan the next day—the ten things you want to focus on—and just get on and do your work. If you are interrupted by a request, add it to your inbox and get back to doing your work. 

And that’s really all there is to it. 

Hopefully, that’s given you some ideas, Natalie. If you want more information about this, you can take my FREE productivity course, the Collect, Organise and Do system. That will help you to set up a system for yourself. 

Thank you for the question, and thank you to all of you for listening. Don't forget, if you have a question you would like answering, then you can do so by emailing me— carl@carlpullein.com or DMing me on Twitter or Facebook. 

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