The Working With… Podcast | Episode 17 | How To Build Your Self-Discipline

March 12, 2018

This week, I answer a question about self-discipline and how to build better and stronger self-discipline so you can get the important things done. 


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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about becoming more self-disciplined.

Hello and welcome to episode 17 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, I am answering a question about self-discipline, or rather how to become more self-disciplined, something that is surprisingly easy to do as long as you begin with small steps. 

But before we get in to that, I just wanted to let you know that this month’s online course special offer is my Complete Guide To Creating a Successful Life. This is one of my most comprehensive courses and is designed to take you on a voyage of self-discovery and evaluation. By the end of the course you will have a complete, easy to follow plan to create a life you want that focuses on your happiness, goals and learning. Don’t miss this chance to get 50% off this fantastic course. The links are in the show notes, so go on and get yourself enrolled. 

Okay, time for this week’s question. So let me now hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:

This week’s question comes from Jessica in Canada. Jessica asks:

I really struggle sticking to my plan for the day. I spend time at the end of a day planning what I want to do the next day and go to bed with all the best intentions. But when I wake up, I don’t have the motivation. Is there anything I can do to improve my self-discipline? 

Okay, thank you so much for this question, Jessica. I know so many people really struggle with self-discipline and I myself also struggle with it from time to time. 

Let me begin by telling you a true story that happened to me last year. Last year I decided it was going to be the most productive year I have ever had. I wanted to get two books and six online courses published. I also wanted to put out a minimum of three YouTube videos each week. It was a big ask, but I was determined to get it done. And I did do it. 

Unfortunately, one of my core values suffered. I love keeping fit and exercising. I hate it when I gain a few kilograms. But as I was always doing something to create content, I let my exercise regime slide and I gained around 5 kilos. (that’s around 11 pounds for you non-metric people). So I ended the year having achieved one goal, but in achieving that goal, I let one of my core values slip and so the celebration of hitting a goal was diminished by the excess weight I had gained. 

When I started 2018, I made it a goal to lose those 5 kilos and get myself fit again. Well, things did not start off very well. I found myself making excuses. First there was jet-lag, so I would start exercising properly again next week. Then I caught a cold, so I delayed starting my exercise programme until the following week. Then I had a busy week and so on and so on. You get the picture. There was always an excuse. And I always told myself I would restart next week. 

Well, as I am sure many of you know, “next week” never actually happens. It wasn’t until the middle of February that I realised what I was doing— I knew what I was doing before really, but I always had an excuse—and said to myself I have got to stop making excuses and get my exercise regime started. 

So, I made a plan. Every day, I would do 4 sets of planks and press-ups—no excuses— and 5 days a week I would do a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise each day. The planks and press-ups would not take longer than 10-15 minutes and I knew I could always find that time each day. And by exercising for minimum of 20 minutes five days a week, would allow enough flexibility to have busy days. 

Well, almost three weeks in, and I have now lost 3 kilos, and have stuck to the plan. 

To make this happen has taken a lot of self-discipline. It was my lack of self-discipline at the beginning of the year that allowed me to make excuses for six weeks. It was when I saw what I was doing, and I have to admit it was my journal that was telling me, that I was making excuses, that I stopped myself. 

But the thing is I did not go crazy. Self-discipline is like a muscle. If you try and do too much too soon you will fail. You will give up and your pride and self-worth gets a battering. Instead I made sure that the programme I developed was easily achievable. All I had to do was make sure I did something for at least ten to fifteen minutes per day and that would soon create a chain reaction. And that is what has happened. Every morning now, when I wake up, I make sure that I have fitted in my exercise for the day so I know when I need to start. 

To build self-discipline, you need to start small. Let’s say you want to lose 5 kilos, as I did. Then you first need to decide how you will do that. Are you going to diet, exercise or a combination of both? Once you have decided how you are going to do it, you need to start small. For example, you could decide that you will cut the number of teaspoons of sugar you put in your tea and coffee from 2 to a ½. That could be what you do in the first week. Then for the next week, you can do twenty minutes exercise every day. Now that could be walking for twenty minutes, or doing 20 minutes of Yoga in the evening. The important thing is you do not try and do too much and overwhelm yourself. Start small and train your self-discipline muscle. 

As your self-discipline develops, you will find it harder and harder not to do what you are trying to become more disciplined at. 

Take for example Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club. This is something that Robin Sharma, the leadership coach teaches. That is to wake up at 5 AM every morning and do the 20/20/20—that’s 20 minutes exercise, twenty minutes planning and twenty minutes studying. 

Now for most of us not accustomed to waking up at such an unearthly hour of the day, starting something like this is going to be a huge shift in our daily lives. My guess is if we tried it, most of us would fall off the wagon before we get to Wednesday. I would further guess, a lot of us probably wouldn’t be able to do it on the first day! 

However, let’s say we built up to it. Instead of waking up at 5 AM in the first week, we focused on doing the 20/20/20 rule first. So if we normally wake up at 7:30AM and need to leave the house at 8:30AM. Then why not start off by waking up at 7AM and doing the 20/20/20. We would still have time to have a shower and something to eat before 8:30AM. 

Once we have developed the habit of doing the 20/20/20 system, and we feel uncomfortable NOT doing it, then we can start getting up a little earlier each week. If you woke up 30 minutes earlier each week, you would soon find yourself waking up at 5 AM. 

During the period of transition, you would be training your self-discipline and you would be becoming stronger and stronger. 

The thing about self-discipline is it grows your confidence. When you start becoming more self-disciplined in one area of your life, you can apply it to other areas of your life. It becomes easier and easier. 

Self-discipline is really the ability to form habits. And positive habits at that. A habit is something you just do without thinking. If at the moment you are a bit of a couch potato, then the thought of getting up off the couch and going for a walk for an hour be unthinkable. But, if you were in the habit of going out for a walk every evening for a walk, the thought of spending the evening sat on the couch, would be unthinkable. The great thing about habits, is we get to chose our own and we can change old habits. 

The first step, is always to just start doing what you want to do. Take each day as it comes and make a conscious effort make it happen. Don’t try and change too much. Focus on one thing at a time. We all have far more time than we think, and if it takes three to four months to develop the habit, then focus on that one change you want to make for those three to four months. Only after you begin doing your new, more positive habit, without thinking should you move on to developing the next thing you want to develop. 

Waking up in the morning with your plan in place means waking up, focussed on the one thing you want to get done that day. Once you have done that, move on to the next thing on your list. The key is to do these in small steps, develop the habit, and then move on to the next thing. Slowly, but surely your self-discipline will develop and pretty soon you will be able to achieve things you never dreamt possible.

I will end this episode with one of my favourite Jim Rohn quotes:

“Success is a few small disciplines practiced everyday. Failure, is a few errors in judgement repeated every day.” 

The meaning, is do the things that will improve your life with discipline everyday. And don’t repeat the mistake of not doing them. 

Thank you very much for listening to this episode. If you have a question you would like answering, please get in touch either by email ( or message me via Twitter or Facebook.

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



The Working With… Podcast | Episode 16 | What to do When Your Company Won’t Allow You To Use 3rd party Apps

March 5, 2018

This week, I answer a question many people have concerning what to do when your company does not allow you to use your own productivity apps. 

Don't forget, if you have a question, you can contact me at or DM me on Twitter or Facebook 


Skillshare 2 Months FREE premium membership link:









In this week’s episode of the working with podcast, I answer a question about integrating a personal productivity system in to a work environment that restricts app usage. 

Hello and welcome to episode 16 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s question is on a topic I know many people encounter in their working lives where their company’s IT policy restricts the usage of personal apps in the working environment. I know this can cause a lot of frustration for us productive, organised types. 

Before I get in to answering the question, I would just like to say if anyone is interested in learning more about productivity, time management and goal planning, Skillshare, the online course provider, has given me a unique link that allows anyone using it to sign up for their premium membership for FREE for 2 months. All you have to do is click on the link in the show notes and follow the instructions. Most of my productivity and time management courses are there as well as my latest English Email Mastery course which I launched a couple of weeks ago. So, go ahead and sign up, it’s completely FREE for 2 months and the education you could get in two months would be priceless. 

Okay, let me now hand you over the the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Adam. Adam asks: how do you integrate a productivity system into work environments that limit certain apps. 

This is one of the more frustrating parts of living in a modern tech orientated society. I know a lot of companies are fearful of being hacked or have their product secrets stolen, so their IT departments impose very strict rules on what can and cannot be used in the office. Personally, I think as time goes by, this will become less of an issue as more and more companies adopt more flexibly working practices. 

But how do with handle this today? Well the first thing to understand is you cannot change the rules, well, I guess most of you can’t, so we have to work within the rules. Now I know all companies have different rules, but the basics would apply whichever type of company you are working for. 

Let’s assume your company operates on a Microsoft Office platform, so the only apps allowed to get work done are the Microsoft suite of apps. This however, does allow us access to some fantastic apps. Two of which are particularly excellent, OneNote and OneDrive. If you have a personal Microsoft account, and a work account, although you may not be able to merge the two together you are at least able to use two of the best productivity apps out there. 

Now, most of the companies do allow you access to their files through their own signing in protocols and VPN (that’s Virtual Private Network internet access) so, at least you can have access to your work when you are off site. What I would suggest in these situations is you use your company’s computer for your work related files and notes and if you need access to your personal files, access those through the online versions. Evernote, OneNote, Todoist and many other productivity apps have web versions of their apps, so this should not be problem. 

However, I do know that some companies restrict the websites you can access too. In these situations, the only thing you can do is use your personal phone or tablet computer to access your personal files. 

The thing is, if you are using an app like Todoist, Asana, Trello or Things 3, you do still have access to these on your personal devices. If you are not allowed to access their websites, then you can still add tasks via your personal devices. This is not that much different from the way I work, When I am with a student or client and I have a list of things to do for that student or client after the meeting, I will transfer those tasks from my notebook (yes, I do still use a paper-based notebook when I am with clients) into my Todoist’s inbox. I would then process those tasks later in the day. 

There is another thing you can do that works beautifully, and that is to print out your tasks list the night before. When you have your task list printed out on a piece of paper, you can cross off the tasks as you do them, and you can add tasks that need adding to your to-list manager with a pen. Then, when you get home you can transfer those tasks into your to-do list manager when you do your daily mini-review. One of the professors I work with, prints out his calendar every week, and as he goes through the week he adds tasks and appointments by pen to the piece of paper. He’s been doing this for years and he’s one of the most productive guys I ever met. 

Your work calendar can be used to block time out for focused work, and you can see an overview of what meetings and appointments you have from that calendar. I would assume your work calendar can be shared to your main calendar as there is little or no secret information stored in there. If there is and you cannot share your work calendar with your personal calendar, then just block work time out on your personal calendar. 

In these situations, I would also recommend you do a daily mini-review while you are at work. That way you have access to both your work related tasks and your personal tasks. This means when you finish work for the day, you have everything planned for the next day while you had access to all the information you may need. 

Reference notes for your work projects can be stored in your company’s OneDrive folder or whatever system they use. Quite often when I am collaborating with a client who uses Google Docs, for example, I keep notes related to that collaboration project on Google Docs. That way when I am working on that project, I can access my notes directly from Chrome. Likewise if I have a client who is in the Microsoft ecosystem, I would keep my notes related to that project in my OneNote. If I have no such restrictions I still prefer to keep everything in Evernote, but from time to time that is not always possible. 

The thing is, personal productivity is all about the framework you have in place. It is not about the apps. The apps are irrelevant really. A good productivity system can be utilised on any platform with any device. Your to-dos are on your to-do list, which could very easily be a simple piece of paper, your events and appointments are on your calendar, your notes are kept in a notes app, or if that is not possible, a simple Word or Google document would work. In fact, when I think about it, Microsoft Excel could be turned into a fantastic to-do list manager if you really thought about it. 

What you need to make sure of is that when you need a file, or need to know what to work on next you can quickly access that information when you need it. Having a to-do list manager that is not permitted on your work computer is fine, you can use your mobile devices and you personal computer (if you have one) to do your processing and reviews. Notes can be a little more difficult, but most Operating systems now come with a built in notes app. On a Mac you get Notes, on Windows you get OneNote for example. For work related reference materials you can always use these build in apps. 

I run two companies, my productivity business and my language consultancy. Both companies have their own email domain which run through Google Business. With that package I get the full Google suit of office apps. I keep my language consultancy business’s work in it’s Google Drive. Because I know any document relating to that business will only ever be in Google Drive, it is very easy for me to locate the file I need, when I need it. For my productivity business, I use iCloud. So I am using two different platforms, but have no problems because there are clear, hard edges between the two businesses. The same goes for companies where their IT policy does not allow you to use third party apps. You just have to use whatever you are permitted to use and make sure YOUR filing system is followed. 

I as I say, these difficulties will disappear soon. Companies will have to change if they are going to become more flexible with their employees. And even if the companies don’t change, employees will demand it. Having a good, strong framework as your productivity system, allows you to be able to operate in any kind of environment. My Todoist has plenty of tasks like “continue developing online course”. As soon as I see that task, I know I need to open up Numbers on my Mac and continue planning. I know where the file is because it is related to my productivity business. If I had a task that said “continue developing communication lecture for AB Company” then I know the Keynote file is in my communications company’s Google Drive in the folder “AB Company Lecture”. And that’s what you need to create when your company is very restrictive with what you use. 

Hopefully, that has helped those of you listening that have to deal with strict company IT policies. 

Thank you very much for listening, don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast, please drop me a line at or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. Or you could write your question on a postcard and mail it to… Hahaha I’ve always wanted to say that. 

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


The Working With… Podcast | Episode 15 | My Top 5 Time Management And Productivity Tips

February 26, 2018

In this week's episode, I share with you my top 5 tips on becoming better at time management and productivity. 









The Working With Podcast 15

In this week’s episode of the working with podcast, I share with you my top five tips on becoming better at time management and productivity. 

Hello and welcome to episode 15 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week, rather than answering a question, I want to share with you my top five tips on better time management and greater productivity. 

I decided to do this because on a recent trawl through Twitter I discovered there are a lot of people who are struggling with managing their time and feel incredibly overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do. 

Before we do get started though, I would like to ask if you have any questions about time management, productivity, goal planning or self-development, please drop me a line either via email, or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. 

Okay, time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question...

Okay, Carl, so you say you know a lot about time management and productivity, what are your top 5 tips for better time management and productivity?

Okay, so none of these tips involves a deep knowledge or understanding of the science or reasoning behind them. They are just common sense tricks that have been proven to work time and time again no matter what personality type you are. 

So here goes with tip number 1:

Spend 10 mins planning your big three tasks for the day evening before. 

Now there is a lot written about this and I’ve seen a lot of debates about whether this is best done in the morning or evening. I have tried both methods and have found that doing a 10 minute planning session the night before helps me to get a better night’s sleep and I can start the morning by getting straight in to my work. 

The thing about planning what three things you WILL do today is no matter how much work you have to do, every day you are moving forward on the important things. With no plan, we often do the things that have the least resistance—you know the easiest task to do. But if we make a definite plan, either written down or as part of a list on your phone or computer, you are much more likely to do it. If that list is small, or it does not have more than 3 things on it, you are always likely to focus on it and get it done. 

I call these “today’s Objectives” and they are the only things on my “today’s Objectives” list. It’s the first list I open in a morning when I sit down to work and I try to keep the list to only two things. Sometimes, I will have three, but I never let it have more than three things. I’ve found through experience, that three things is the maximum I can do without feeling overwhelmed. 

Tip Number 2

Schedule a minimum of 2 x 90 mins sessions of focused work each day. It’s impossible to stay focused on your work for more than 2 hours. Your brain cannot focus for that length of time. The amount of time one an focus is an individual thing, I can focus on one thing for around 50 minutes, I know other people who can focus for longer or less. What I have found is if you allow yourself two 90 minute segments in your day split by taking some time off, you can get 3 hours of focused work done each day. 3 hours in long enough to make an impact on any project. If you do this 5 days a week, you are doing 15 hours of focused work each week. You can achieve a lot in that time. 

Doing things this way also allows you to do other, non-work related things without feeling guilty about what you have not done. I find this allows me to get my project work done and allow time to exercise and take my dog for a long walk and still get a lot of work done. 

Tip 3

Use your calendar 

Schedule your social time and your work time on your calendar. If you use the 2 ninety minute segments I mentioned, then depending on whether you are a morning person or a night person, you could schedule 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon. That frees up your evenings and lunch times to do other stuff. Check your social media, go for a beer or three with your friends or just spend some time with your family. 

I’ve found if you schedule time on your calendar you are much more likely to do whatever is on there. Now this does not mean you should fill every time slot on your calendar with something. What it means is you put on your calendar only the things you intend to do that day. If you are a college student, that means you schedule your classes and study time in your calendar, and if you plan to meet up with your friends on Thursday evening, then, of course, you put that into your calendar. 

My rule is if it has to be done on a specific day it goes on my calendar. If it’s something I would like to do that day, it stays on my to-do list manager. 

Tip 4

Do a weekly review.

Now this doesn’t have to be deep, a deep weekly review is advisable, but if you are just starting out on getting better at time management then just review what needs to be done next week and what you have done this week. All you need to know is what needs doing next week and schedule these on your calendar for next week. If you have a project deadline coming up next week or you have an important seminar you are attending, then make sure anything you need to do for those events are scheduled either in your to-do list manager or calendar. 

A lot of stress is caused because people are vaguely aware something needs doing, but they not aware of exactly how much needs doing. Usually, if you review the week ahead and see what needs doing you realise not as much work needs doing as you think. This can be a huge stress relief. The stress is caused by not knowing what needs doing. 

A review means you take some time, maybe twenty to thirty minutes on a Friday afternoon, or better yet, a Sunday afternoon to go through all the projects, tasks and things you have to do, and deciding which ones you will do next week so you can end the week knowing you are on top of everything. When you get in to the habit of the weekly review, the amount of important work you get done is huge!

And tip number 5

Keep one notebook or a digital tool for collecting your commitments, ideas and notes. 

Carry it with you everywhere you go. I learnt this from David Allen and his legendary note-taker wallet. I once had lunch with David, and during our lunch, he never once pulled out his phone, but he did pull out his note-taker wallet and wrote down the name of the wine we had— it was a very nice red. 

The problem we have is our brain is not good at remembering ideas. Our brains are great at recognising patterns but terrible at remembering dates, ideas, and names. We can instantly recognise where we are based on the shapes, smells and sounds around us. If we wake up from a long sleep in the middle of the forest, our brains will instantly recognise from the patterns of smells, colours, shapes and sounds we are in the middle of the forest. But try and remember the name of the president’s PA we met briefly last week, and we will struggle. 

When you carry around a notebook, either a digital one in your phone or a small paper one you keep in your bag, you can write down all your ideas, commitments and important information. 

I used to have a bad habit of not writing down when a student told me they were unable to meet the following week because of a business trip or some such thing. I then forgot to remove the class from my calendar and when the following week came round I would send out the reminder and be told by the student they had already informed me they were not able to meet that week. Now I make sure I write it down. 

And that’s it. My top five ways to get yourself better at time management. Really it comes down to being aware of what needs doing and when things are due. Time management is about using your twenty-four hours in the right place so you achieve the right results. After all, we all have the same amount of time each day. It’s what we do with those hours that really defines whether we will be successful or stressed out not achieving very much. 

So to sum up:

Spend 10 minutes each evening planning what you want to get done the next day and write it down. Do not have more than 3 things on that list.

Schedule two 90 minute intervals on your calendar each day and make sure you do focused, undistracted work in that time. (okay, maybe you don’t need to do this on weekends)

Use your calendar for the things that absolutely much be done on a specific day. Schedule time to make sure they happen and do it. Your calendar is sacred.

Do a weekly review each week. Look to see what is coming up over the next few weeks and what deadlines you have the following week and make sure you schedule time on your calendar to do it. 

And finally, carry a little notebook or digital notebook with you everywhere you go to capture your ideas, commitments and events. Remember, your brain is terrible at remembering these things and when you do your weekly review, make sure you look through your notebook for anything you may have missed. 

Good luck, and if you want to learn more about what I can do to help you either through my mentoring programme, online courses or just through my blog or YouTube channel, then you can find all the details on my website,

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



The Working With… Podcast | Episode 14 | What Is The Difference Between A Next Action and a Single Action?

February 19, 2018

This week I answer a question about the difference between a single action and a next action and how to deal with both types of task.








In this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast, I answer a question about the difference between single actions and next actions in my organisation system.

Hello and welcome to episode 14 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

This week I have a question about the difference between single actions and next actions in my productivity system. A very good question indeed and one that can cause people starting out on the Getting Things Done journey a lot of confusion. 

Before we get into the answer to that question, I would like to ask anyone listening that if they have any particular problems with their productivity/time management system if they could contact me. I want to put together a series, either on YouTube or in an online course that will address the most common problems of getting yourself more organised and better with time management. You can email me,, DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the details are in the show notes.

Okay, let's get into this week’s question, so it is now time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question is from Maurice. Maurice asks:

Carl, I purchased your book on Todoist — thank you so much for a wealth of information — Could you tell me why you use the single actions and next actions. Thank you.

Another great question, Maurice. Thank you.

Okay, let’s start with the easiest one of the two. The next actions. Next actions are the very next steps you need to take on an individual project. For example, if you are planning your summer holiday, then the very next action could be to decide when you will take your summer holiday, or where you want to go. These decisions may involve your spouse, partner or friends, so the next action would be to discuss with your spouse, partner or friends about where you want to go. This task will be held in your “Summer Holiday” project in your projects list. Once you have decided where you want to go, the next action would probably be something like “decide when to take summer holiday” 

So, next actions are the steps or tasks you need to take to complete a project. 

Single actions, on the other hand, are quite different. Single actions are for tasks that have no project. This could be something as simple as “send copy of interesting article to Beth” This task is a simple, one-off task that does not belong to a project but is something that you don’t have time to do right now. The “interesting article” you want to send to Beth may be an article you need to find first, which may take you longer than two minutes. 

Now, that sort of brings me on to the two-minute rule. The two-minute rule is a rule that says if a task will take you less than two minutes to do, then do it now. The idea is it will take you more time to process it, than to do it, so you may as well do it right now. Now, the two-minute rule is very flexible. If you have plenty of time, then you may extend the time to any task that requires five minutes or less, or alternatively, if you are pushed for time, you may try and complete tasks that require only one minute to do. 

In my own experience, adopting the two-minute rule when I process helps to keep my single actions lists short. These lists can very easily end up becoming an overwhelming list of things you need to do because the list becomes a dumping ground for tasks you are not quite sure how to complete. When I have seen some of these lists from my clients, I often find that a lot of these single actions are actually projects disguised as single actions. Before making the decision about whether a task is a single action or not, make sure it is not a project. 

For example, “Call Jim and Jenny about mother’s birthday”, may actually be a project of “Organise birthday party For mother”. Or “set up meeting with Sarah and Steve” may really be a project called “this month’s marketing meeting”. My advice has always been to think through these tasks to make sure they are not part of a bigger project before you assign them to your single actions list. 

Going back to the next actions, these tasks do relate to a specific project and can be handled in a few different ways. Sometimes, when I want to spend a whole morning or afternoon working on a single project, I will have my to-do list manager open at that project’s view. This helps me to focus on what needs doing. For example, I could be creating a presentation for a client and so, rather than looking at my “today list”, I work directly from the project’s list. Other times, I just make sure that there is a task from the project coming up every day in my regular daily task list. 

In Getting Things Done, David Allen emphasises that it is important to have identified the very next action in all your open projects. Now, these do not have to have a date attached to them, all that needs doing is that a next action or task is inside each project and that it has the correct context, or label, attached to it. Obviously, if a project does not have any next actions, then essentially the project is dead or complete because there is nothing to do with it. 

Going back to the birthday party for your mother. Organising that is a project. So anything related to that project is a next action. The question is, what is the VERY next action. For example, if you have a list of tasks such as:

  • Call Jim and Jenny about venue for mother’s party
  • Find a caterer for mother’s party
  • Decide on venue for mother’s party
  • Write a list of people to invite
  • Decide on the date for party

The question you have to answer is what is the very next action? It could be, decide on date for mother’s party. But, when you sit down to think about that, you may realise that you need to talk to Jim and Jenny about that first. Now you have another task, another next action. If the project cannot move forward without talking to Jim and Jenny, then the very next action for that project, would be “talk to Jim and Jenny about date for party” As you have an action about talking to Jim and Jenny about the venue for the party, you may put the task of talk to Jim and Jenny about venue as the next action after the date and so on. 

So, as you can see, there is quite a big difference between next actions and single actions. 

How you organise your system is really up to you. Your system has to work for you. But fundamentals like next actions and single actions are something that you need to be aware of at any one time. This is why the weekly review is so important to have a workable GTD system. If you are not reviewing your projects weekly, things are going to slip and you are going to miss important deadlines and stress will start pouring into your life. Your weekly review is where you can sit down and get a much bigger idea of what is going on in your life and what you need to do next to make sure you are meeting your project deadlines and hitting your goals. 

I always see my weekly review as a time each week where I can jump off life’s merry-go-round and get a good view of where my life is going, what commitments I have and what I need to do next to make sure I am hitting my goals. My weekly review is also where I can make sure that every project I have has at least one next action and that any of my single actions are not projects in disguise. 

Hopefully, Maurice, that has answered your question. The thing to remember is a next action is project specific. Next actions are the very next steps you need to take to move a project forward towards completion. 

A single action is something that does not require multiple steps—rather a single step— to complete a commitment. Single actions are not projects. They are what they say they are. Single step projects if you like. All you need is to do one thing and the project is complete. Something like “pick up dog food on the way home”.

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, just send me an email or DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be very happy to answer it for you. All my contact details will be in the show notes.

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


The Working With… Podcast | Episode 13 | Explaining Getting Things Done.

February 12, 2018


Getting Things Done, By David Allen 2015

Setting up GTD in Todoist Series

Alt. GTD setup in Todoist







In this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast, I answer a question about managing a pure Getting Things Done system.

Hello and welcome to episode 13 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

In this week’s episode, I answer a question about managing a pure GTD system (that’s Getting Things Done by David Allen) when you don’t use dates as reminders to do your tasks.

Now, I should tell you the truth, when I first began using the GTD system, this was one of the hardest things for me to get my head around. I, like most people, had grown up using due dates to remind me to do things. The GTD methodology takes that away and focuses on contexts to tell you what work to get done. 

Anyway, before I answer the question, let me hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from YouTube user Gilco. Gilco asks: 

Without any scheduled dates how can one get things really done and don't lose the overview of all the things that have to be done? In the end, I have a great bunch of lists with many many points to go through and schedule. 

How can I then be reassured that I will not forget any point that has a specific due date...?

Okay, let's start with the basic idea behind GTD. GTD works on the idea that in order for you to complete a task, you are going to need a tool—a phone, a computer or a machine, a place— your office your home or the local hardware store, or a person—your boss, partner or a friend etc. No matter how urgent or how much you must complete that task today, if you do not have the right tool, are in the right place or with the right person you cannot do the task. 

A good example is if you need to reply to an email today, but you are on a 14-hour flight to Asia, and there is no internet available on the plane, no matter how urgent your reply is, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You could, of course, write the email and save it in your outbox ready for when you next have an internet connection, but the bottom line is for the next 14 hours, there is nothing you can do about sending the mail. You are not in the right place (a place with internet access) 

With GTD, when you sit down to do some work, you open the lists that you can complete tasks from. For example, I have a list in Todoist I call my “office list” that shows all the things I need to do on my computer or phone. That is because when I am in my home office I have my phone and my computer right in front of me. Those are the tasks I can do right now, so that is the only list that matters. My list of things I need to talk to my wife about is not relevant. She is not there, so I cannot talk to her. 

Of course, if my wife comes home, I can quickly check that list to see if there is anything I need to talk to her about that needs talking about today. 

the same way if I take a call from my colleague. I can bring up the list for my colleague and check to see if there is anything I need to talk to her about. Once I have talked to her about everything that needs talking about I can check those tasks off. 

Now imagine if I go out in the car and I pass the hardware store. I can pull over and check to see what is on my hardware store list. If there is anything I need, I can go into the store and purchase it. While I am sat in my office doing work, there is no point in looking at my hardware store list because I am not there. If I know I will be going past the store later that day, then, of course, I can take a look to see if I need to call in when I pass. 

Okay, so hopefully that explains the basic idea behind GTD. 

Now, what about things that absolutely must be done today. These would be put on your calendar. Your calendar is your radar that tells you what needs to happen on specific days. Most of us are already using our calendar for date specific appointments, well for GTD users, also included on our calendars are all the tasks that must be done on a specific day. For example, if you need to send that email today, and you are flying out to Asia in the afternoon, you would put “send email to Sarah before flying to Asia” on your calendar. You do not necessarily have to allocate it a time, but as it MUST go today before you fly, then it would be on your calendar. 

If you need to finish a poster design for approval by Friday afternoon, then you would use your calendar to allocate a day when you would finish the design. Again, the choice is yours whether you allocate a time to do this or not. The important thing is that it is on your calendar on the day you need to do it. 

For example, I need to write my weekly blog post on Monday morning. This allows me time to write, and edit the post before it gets published on Wednesday. I actually allocate Monday morning 8:30am to 10:30am to write the post. If I am on fire and get the draft written by 9:30am, then I would open my calendar and see what else needs doing that day. If there is nothing else allocated, I would then open my @office list and begin working my way down that list until I have to leave to teach my class at lunchtime. 

So the morning workflow would be - open calendar check what needs doing today, once those tasks are completed, I then move over to my @office list and begin working my way down that list. 

If my context changes, from @office to @coffee shop, for example, which it sometimes does in the afternoons, then I open my @mobile list and continue working my way down that list. My @mobile list includes all the tasks I can complete using my phone or iPad. 

Over the years my workflow has changed a little. I find I prepare better if I check my calendar the night before. This way I am ready to get started on whatever work needs doing the moment I have my coffee made. When you check your calendar doesn’t really matter. Just go with whatever way works best for you. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, when you move from being date orientated to being context orientated productivity it can be difficult at first. But the beauty of the GTD system is in its simplicity and it’s logical workflow. 

Now, what about knowing what needs to be done and when. Well, this where the weekly review pulls it all together. When you do the weekly review you go through all your current projects task by task and make sure they are still relevant. Anything that needs to be done on a specific day, is moved on to your calendar and the rest stays on your to-do list— making sure you have the right context assigned to it. 

During particularly busy periods, you may find you have to do a weekly review more often, I have done mini-weekly reviews two or three times in a week in the past because I knew I had a lot of deadlines coming up all at once. 

When you go all in with GTD you soon find that the weekly review is essential if you want your system to work seamlessly. 

Is GTD all that it is cracked up to be? I would say an emphatic YES! After switching and enduring the growing pains related to moving from being date orientated to context orientated my productivity sky-rocketed. I very rarely miss any deadlines and often find I have completed a project well within the time frame given to me. My stress levels reduced dramatically because I was always getting the important things done first and then making a dent on all the other work that needed doing. I never had to think about what to do next, because just looking at the right list told me. Those decisions were made when I did my weekly review. 

The feeling of control and freedom GTD gave me, meant I could take more time off to sit back simply enjoy life again. Something I found difficult to do when I was date orientated. 

As I got better at GTD I did modify the system a little. I like to separate out my routine tasks from my project tasks. to me, routines just have to be done and do not take my life any further forward. It is project tasks that improve my life and improve me as a person. So I want to be more focused on these. That little modification really got me focused on the important things in my life and boosted my productivity even further. 

So there you have it. That’s how GTD works and how it can really transform your productivity. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read the book. The book will give you everything you need to set up your own GTD system. I will put a link to the English version in the show notes for this episode. 

For you Todoist users, I also have a mini-series of videos showing you how to set up a GTD system in Todoist and I also have a video showing an alternative way to set up GTD that I recently discovered when the Getting Things Done company released a setup guide for Todoist. All the links to these are in the show notes. 

Thank you very much for listening to this podcast. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer, you can email me—, DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be happy to add your question to the list. 

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




The Working With… Podcast | Episode 12 | What I Put In Evernote

February 5, 2018

This week's episode answer a question from many people about what exactly do I put into my Evernote. 


My Drafts Review Video


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In this week’s episode of The Working With Podcast, I answer a question about Evernote I am frequently asked.

Hello and welcome to episode 12 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

Since starting this podcast last November the one question I am asked most often is how and what I use Evernote for. This question is easy to understand, because Evernote can be used for so many things. It can be used for collecting your ideas, your memories, your kids’ drawings and paintings as well as more businessy stuff such as expense receipts, meeting notes and performance tracking. 

So, in this week’s episode I decided to go through the kind of stuff I keep in Evernote and hopefully it will give you some ideas of what you too can use Evernote for. 

So, without further ado, let me hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question… 

This week’s question comes from many people: Jill, David, Penny and Tony to name a few. The question is: Hi Carl, what do you put into your Evernote?

Okay, before we get in to the details of this question, I should say I have been using Evernote since September 2009. So I am nearing my 9th year anniversary. 

Quite simply Evernote changed everything for me. Before Evernote, i had notes and files all over the place. Now, because I am a naturally organised person, these notes and files did have a place, usually kept in folders in my bookshelf next to my desk. Notes, were often kept in notebooks and all my important paper documents were kept in their appropriate files. It was organised, but it still took time to find what I was looking for when I needed it. 

Then along came Evernote. Even back then it was easy to take a picture of something and send it to Evernote. And this is what I started doing. First in was important receipts that I needed to keep for the guarantee. Then it was my utility bills and soon pretty much all important paper documents I needed to keep were scanned into my Evernote. In the early days I needed to scan many of these documents in using my computer’s printer/scanner, but as time went by and technology in our digital devices improved, I was able to scan documents simply by using my iPhone. 

My organised mind, created a number of Notebooks and tags for these documents and very soon it just became natural to scan in documents to Evernote. I think, if I am being honest, I never actually made the decision to go paperless, it just evolved over a few years. 

I’ve always used Evernote to capture my ideas and notes. That was what I used Evernote for when I first started using it. Scanning documents came later. 

Over the years, what I keep in Evernote has grown, and as the stuff I keep there has grown, so my organisation of Evernote has evolved. Now, for example, I use less notebooks and more tags. That was a big change in the way I use Evernote a couple of years ago. (thank you, Enrico Nahler) 

The one thing that has always kept me with Evernote by the way is Evernote’s search function. I have tried other note taking apps over the years, but the one thing Evernote does better than all its rivals is in it’s search. It is fast (very important) and you can search for almost anything within a note. Just hitting COMMAND J on a Mac (sorry I don’t know what the function is on Windows) will search for notebooks, tags or keywords. It takes no time at all and it is so easy to find exactly what you are looking for. If, for example, I am planning a trip to Singapore and will have a few days free, I can go in to Evernote, type “Singapore” in the box and I will get all my notes related to Singapore and I can choose the places I want to visit. 

So there you have one use of Evernote I use. I keep a note for each city or country I would like visit and list out all the places I would like to see while I am there. I also keep important information such as visa requirements and other such information. 

I also keep all my utility bills in there now. As soon as a bill arrives I will use my phone and scan the bill in and send it to my inbox. Then when I process my inbox I will tag it appropriately and send it off the the right notebook. 

I also have a special tag I call Incubator. My incubator is used for ideas I am developing. I get ideas at all times of the day. It is so easy to open up Evernote using 3D Touch on my phone and capture the idea. Then as I develop the idea over time, I store it in my Incubator tag which is kept in my favourites bar. This way it is really easy to get the note back and add other ideas I have to the note as they come up.

My journal is now in Evernote. The reason I switched over to Evernote was simply because Evernote is with me everywhere I go. If I have a few minutes while in a taxi, on a bus or train and I want to write in my journal I can do so. Then, at the end of the year, I print out that year’s journal entries and create a book from it and I store those in a storage box. In the future it will fantastic to be able to go in and read what I wrote in years gone by. 

One area of interest I have is with classic British clothing. I love the history and culture behind items of clothing. For example, the business suit we all know and sometimes wear today has military origins going back centuries. Overcoats and pea coats also originated from military clothing. It’s a fascinating story where the different styles we all love to wear come from. I have a tag for articles related to clothing I like and can reference these when I am deciding if I want to buy a new coat or suit. 

Likewise I have a tag for clothing and shoe suppliers. I have my favourite brands, I think we all do, and as I live in South Korea some suppliers can’t or won’t ship to Korea. Over the years I have found suppliers who do ship here, so I keep their details in Evernote and if I decide I want to buy a new sweater, I can go in to Evernote search for “sweaters” and up comes my favourite sweater manufacturer, N Peal in London (they do ship to Korea by the way) Same for my shoes. My favourite show maker is a company called Crockett and Jones. Now some department stores do sell Crockett and Jones here in Korea, but they are prohibitively expensive here. It is actually cheaper to buy direct from the UK. I know my sizes at Crockett and Jones so I can simply pull up my Crockett and Jones note and I have the order details right there. 

I also keep details on my favourite fashion icons. I have tags for people like Cary Grant and Steve MacQueen and in there I keep pictures of them and details of the clothes they wore. Steve MacQueen’s sunglasses in the movie Thomas Crown Affair were made by Percel. I have a pair which came from an article I found while surfing around the internet one day years ago, found this article on the sunglasses worn in the movie, clipped the note and a few months later I ordered a pair. 

Other more businessy things I keep in Evernote are things like my student lists. I keep a note for each student and client I teach whether that is my communication students or my productivity mentoring students. These notes contain all the things we are working on and what we have worked on. That way, when I am with the student I have a list of all the things we have worked on and I can see what needs working on without me having to carry that information around in my head. Again, I tag each note with the student’s name. That way it is very easy to call up the note when I need it. 

 I have a tag called “content” in that tag, I keep notes for each of my YouTube series, such as Todoist, Evernote and work. I can then add ideas to the list for future episode when they come to me. I also use a fantastic app called Drafts which allows me to add ideas for these directly to the note without having to open Evernote. I did a YouTube video on Drafts a few months ago, and I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for those of you interested in it. 

My weekly social media content is also planned out in Evernote. I keep a template for this and copy the template every Sunday when I plan out next week’s social media content. During the week, when I am busy doing my usual weekly work stuff, it makes life so easy to just open up that note and do that day’s social media work. 

And of course, meeting notes. Depending on the situation, I either type notes directly into Evernote, or use my paper notebook and after the meeting just scan the notes in. Once again, this makes finding meeting notes months later, so easy. It’s almost unfair on anyone not using Evernote. It really does work as my external brain. 

And there you go, pretty anything I want to keep gets put into Evernote. All my interests and hobbies like, my unhealthy fascination on all things related to James Bond and my love of Photoshop. I keep a tag for these. Tutorials for Photoshop, interesting facts about Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond and my writing hero. Anything like that gets sent to Evernote. As you can imagine, over the last 9 years I have collected an incredible source of information that is tailor-made for my interests and needs. 

And that’s something I should stress. Make Evernote yours. Keep whatever you like in there. Create a notebook and tagging system that works for the way you think and just sit back and enjoy everything you keep there. As time goes by you’ll love going in to your Evernote for all the memories it serves up for you. 

Thank you for listening to this episode. I do hope you enjoyed it as much as I did making it. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like me to answer, all you have to do is email me -, DM my on Facebook or Twitter or fill out the question sheet on my website

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



The Working With… Podcast | Episode 11 | Managing What Goes Into What App

January 29, 2018

Don't forget, My Time And Life Mastery January Sale offer ends Midnight Jan 31st. Get yourself enrolled today and get 50% off the course, PLUS... A free copy of my latest book, Your Digital Life 2.0 AND... The 2018 Time And Life Mastery Workbook. 


In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about deciding what goes where and when.

Hello and welcome to episode 11 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

One of the most frequent questions I get is about managing apps used to maintain a great productivity system. I recommend you have a calendar, a to-do list manager, a notes app and a cloud storage drive. I’ve been recommending this set up for years and I do so because I know it works. But once you have those apps, managing what goes in them can cause problems, particularly if you have never had a system in place before.

This week’s question is related to this whole area and I think my answer and recommendations can help you if you also suffer with this problem. So, enough of me talking. Let me now hand you over to the recently recovered mystery podcast voice, for this week’s question. 

For this week’s question, Nicola writes from France:

How do you distinguish between what you put in Evernote and what you put in Todoist? I have a really hard time with this and find I have tasks and notes all over the place. Thanks, Nicola

Thank YOU Nicola for an excellent question.

This is a problem I find many people have. Because of the way some of these apps are trying to be a one stop solution for all our needs it can become quite confusing where we should be putting things. Evernote, for example, has the ability to create checklists and reminders and become a to-do list manager. Todoist, my other app of choice, has the ability to store notes and files. Because of this it is very easy to start dumping notes in Todoist and to-dos in Evernote. 

The problem I have found when an app tries to be all things is that in order to achieve this, the app has to make compromises. Usually, the interface becomes messy and difficult to read, or in order to get things to work properly, you need to have a doctorate in astro physics, something, most of do not have. I personally, have an allergy to complexity. My brain usually just switches off when faced with anything complex—I lose interest. 

Evernote, for example, puts your reminders at the top of your notes list. Now, on a desktop that works okay, not great, but okay. Evernote on a mobile device becomes much more difficult and finding your to-do list for the day, becomes an exercise that is just way to complex, for me. 

Todoist again, does not work great with notes. Sure you can add notes to individual tasks, and you can add notes to the project itself. But once you have checked off the task, the notes disappear with it. This means if you want to retrieve your notes at a later date you have to go hunting round in the archive. Not the best use of your time, I can assure you. 

This is why I have always maintained what I call hard edges between my apps. My to-do list manager contains the tasks I need or want to do “the whats”. My note taking app contains all the support materials, the “hows” if you like. And my cloud drive, contains the files I am working to make the project happen. This makes it so much easier for me when I come to processing stuff I have collected. If it is something that is telling me what to do, ie. “Call Jennifer about next week’s workshop”, then that goes into my to-do list manager. If I receive an itinerary for the workshop from Jennifer, then that would go into my note taking app. And if I have to prepare a presentation for the workshop, then the Keynote file would be stored in my cloud drive. 

Of course, a lot of things can be going on in the background in this scenario. When I talk to Jennifer, she may say: “I’ll email you the itinerary later today”. Okay, now I am waiting for something. I would create a task in Todoist telling me I am waiting for a file from Jennifer and put that under my waiting for label. If I am to prepare a presentation for the workshop, I would have a note in my notes app with my ideas and sketches for slide design and layout. But the thing is, each item has it’s place and each item is labeled or tagged appropriately so I can find what I need, when I need it instantly. 

And that’s the goal really. “Everything in its place and a place for everything”. 

What I have found is when someone is starting out on the road to greater productivity and organisation, they have to spend time thinking about where something should go. On a Monday morning, after a good night’s sleep making these decisions is easy. But late on a Thursday evening, after a day of back to back meetings and you are exhausted from your efforts, these decisions are not so easy. And that is when things begin to slip. 

Your To-do list manager’s inbox is full of tasks and notes. Your cloud drive has files you are working on all over the place and you haven’t touched your note taking app. This is where taking fifteen to twenty minutes out to tidy things up can be a huge help. Maybe you can come back from your lunch a little earlier and get things organised, Or you could come in to work a few minutes early and get the stuff into the right places. Either way, those fifteen to twenty minutes should be considered an investment. Because later in the day they can save you hours of searching and thinking. 

I’ve been following this philosophy for years now and the processing takes me very little time. In fact, when I look at my inbox, I just naturally start processing. This is something you will get better and faster at doing over time. But it is a habit you need to develop. At first it will take you more time than you anticipate, that’s normal. You are after all, changing the way you think. But if you stick at it, you will get faster and faster at it. 

Another tip here is to have tools for specific purposes. If I am attending a meeting, I always take my notebook with me. I prefer writing meeting notes by hand as it just feels more natural to me. After the meeting, I pull out my todos and enter those into Todoist, cross them off once they are in Todoist and then use Evernote’s scanning app and scan the notes directly into my Evernote inbox. Because the to-dos have been crossed off and entered into my to-do list, I know that what’s left is a note related to the meeting. 

Now of course, I do not always have time to pull out the to-dos immediately after the meeting, but I know the note’s not been scanned, so at the next available opportunity I can quickly scan the note for to-dos, enter them in to Todoist and cross them off from the note. This process takes around two minutes to do and I usually find I do this while I am waiting for the next meeting to start anyway. 

Part of achieving greater personal productivity is really in having the right system set up and those systems naturally fit in with your personality. This is why I know that there is no perfect system. The way my brain works and processes things is likely to be very different from the way your brain works and processes things. I like things to be in their place and if they are not I feel uncomfortable. My wife on the other hand is the complete opposite and feels very comfortable with things all over the place. Much to my frustration. 

But no matter how your brain works, having a system in place that allows you to find what you need with the least effort and time, when you need it should always be your goal. Mixing up your to-dos with you notes and files is a recipe for an unsuccessful attempt at getting yourself better organised. You will spend far too much time looking for stuff and not enough time working on stuff. But if you have a system in place that you know where everything is, you will quickly get so much better at making these decisions with little to no effort at all. It’s just something you need to stick at. 

My advice, is don’t be tempted by apps that try to sell you on their ability to be all things for all situations. Those apps, in my experience are far too compromised to work effectively and they don’t have the hard edges between the various roles they are trying to be. Choose separate apps for each part of your productivity system. Make sure those apps can be link to each other and keep your to-dos in your to-do list manager, you events on your calendar, your notes and reference materials in your notes and the files you’re working on in your cloud drive. Doing things this way will give you a much cleaner, more efficient system.

Thank you for listening and if you have a question you would like answering on this show, please get in touch either by email: or you can DM me on Twitter or Facebook. Lists for all these places are in the show notes.

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


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The Working With… Podcast 10 - Getting a HUGE list of Active Projects Under control

January 22, 2018


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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about coping with a huge list of active projects.

Hello and welcome to episode 10 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

I hope you are all having a great start to the new year. My year hasn’t started too well. The first week I had a stomach bug, and the second week I came down with a cold. So, I decided the third week of this month was the start of the new year and so far, touch wood, my year is now going fantastically!

Anyway, on to this week’s show. This week’s question throws up a very common difficulty for many people in personal productivity and in particular when using GTD. (that’s Getting Things Done by David Allen) This is the one where you end up with a huge list of active projects which in turn leaves you with an overwhelming list of projects that just depresses you every time you open your to-do list manager. In this week’s episode, I want to offer you some guidance on how to avoid this happening to you. 

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 Ben. Thank you, Ben.

Ben asks: You park your projects in someday maybe folder. I’ve got over 60 running parallel projects in my work folder. I am running a tombstone business. How can i handle this for a better overview, thank you. Ben

Another fantastic question. Thank you, Ben

To really answer this question we need to step back a little and look at the big picture and what we are capable of actually doing each day. 

We humans only get 24 hours each day. In that time we need to sleep, eat, shower and communicate with our friends and families. So, while in theory, we have 24 hours, we really only have a fraction of that time to do work. Even the most workaholic types among us, are not capable of doing work consistently over a period of 24 hours. If we tried, we’d be burnt out within a few days. So, let’s get realistic about what we can achieve on a daily basis. Sixty parallel running projects is not going to happen. Either you are going to miss deadlines, or the quality expected for each project is not going to be what is expected. 

From my own experience, I know that to create an online course takes around 10 to 15 hours of planning and 15 to 20 hours to record and edit. There are another 5 to 10 hours required after that for study sheet writing and uploading the videos. So in total to create an online course requires 30 to 40 hours. In theory, that means an online course could be created in one week, given the average working time is between 35 and 40 hour per week. But, what that does not take into consideration is all the additional admin, communications and meetings that are also part of an average week. Even trying to allow two weeks to do this project would be unrealistic, as I always have other projects on at any one time. So, I have learnt that to create an online course (a project) actually takes 1 month to do. 

By allowing 1 month to complete an online course project, I also allow myself time to work on other projects. But, that still means I need 10 hours a week to work on the project. If I multiply those ten hours to say fifty hours for the week, that means theoretically, I can only work on 5 projects at any one time. But, again, that does not take into consideration additional admin, communications and meetings, so realistically, you are only going to be able to work on 3 to 4 projects at any one time. 

Of course, if you own your own business, you can hire people to work on some of your projects and multiply the number of active projects accordingly, but you will always find you are limited by the one resource you cannot change, time. 

This is where the Someday | Maybe folder comes in to play. At any one time, there will be projects that are time sensitive. Projects that have a deadline sometime in the next 3 to 6 months. These projects should be your active projects. These are the ones that have deadlines coming up in the near future and so these should be in your active projects folders whether they are work or personal. All other projects, where the deadlines are over 6 months away can be placed in your someday | maybe folder and for now, left idle. I usually have a reminder task inside these projects to remind me to have a quick look at the project in case there is something I need to do, but for the most part these projects are idle until one of my other, active projects has been completed, Then the next time sensitive project gets moved up into the active project folder. 

However, another area I find people struggle with when they have all their projects lined up in their active projects folders is they date everything. So, each day they end up with over 50 tasks to do and not-surprisingly end up not completing their daily tasks. This then often leads to people quitting using a to-do list manager, complaining that it takes too much time to manage, or to-do lists don’t work for them. The truth is, they are not working their to-do list managers properly, and yes, of course, they become endless lists of work that never gets done. 

I go back to my point at the beginning of this podcast. You have to be realistic about what you can achieve in a day, a week and a month. Biting off more than you can chew is never going to be a good strategy for anyone. 

So if you are suffering from an overwhelming active projects list, then here’s what you can do:

Often one of the first things I notice when I am mentoring people through my mentoring programme (details in the description if anyone is interested… Oops I’m plugging there) is that some people are confusing their day to day activities or areas of focus with projects. For example, marketing activities. Unless the you are creating a new marketing campaign, then any marketing activity will be part of your day to day job. This is an area of focus, not a project. For my productivity business, I promote many of my products on Twitter. These need scheduling every day. This is not a project. This is an area of focus that just needs doing every day. However, creating a launch campaign for my latest book, that’s a project. It is a one off event that lasts around two months. Once the launch window is over, any further marketing activities will become part of my everyday marketing area of focus. 

Likewise, creating my YouTube videos, could in theory be considered a project, but in reality, I do these every week and the only thing that changes is the topic. The number of videos I create each week remain pretty consistent. That makes these videos an area of focus, not a project. I have scheduled time to do the recording and editing each week. 

So, how do you define a project and an area of focus. Well, this is really up to you and your preferred way of working, for me an area of focus is anything that has to be done, but has no end date. It’s just part of my work, but does take my life further forward. A routine is different in that a routine is anything I have to do that does not take my life further forward. For example, taking the garbage out or updating my admin sheets each day. How you define taking your life further forward is another one of those things that only you can decide.

The thing is when you are clear about what your real projects are, and what your areas of focus are, you can make sure your areas of focus become just part of your daily work and you can then focus on allocating sufficient time to your real projects. Things that have a deadline. 

For those of you working with clients, I would create each job I do for a client as a project. In my mentoring programme, each mentee, I think that what you call them, have their own project. Each programme has a set curriculum if you like and I can make sure that each part of the programme is completed when it needs to be completed. I keep the number of active mentees limited to ten at any one time so that I am not overwhelmed. (Incidentally, I do have a couple of places available at the moment... oops another plug...sorry)

So there you have it. If you do find you have a large, overwhelming list of active projects, first go through them to see if any of them require nothing for six months. If so, move them to your someday | maybe folder with a task set to remind you to look at it at some point in the near future. Once you have done that, go through your active projects and see if any of those projects are really areas of focus (don’t have an end date) and move them to your Areas Of Focus folder.

I know these tips will not actually reduce the work. The work still needs to be done anyway, but these tactics will help you to reduce a long list of projects that have become overwhelming and that is really the goal. 

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



The Working With… Podcast 09 - Managing Multiple Work and Personal Projects

January 15, 2018



In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about managing multiple projects as well as multiple personal projects.

Hello and welcome to episode 9 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show. 

In this week’s show, I answer a question many people have about managing multiple personal and work-related projects. With so many people today having side-projects in their lives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost. So, without any further ado, let me hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Neil. Thank you, Neil for your question. 

In the past, I know you've said to limit the number of active projects one has to avoid overload and overwhelm. However, due to the nature of my day job, I have about 5 concurrent work projects plus a couple personal projects. I am hitting a bit of a wall with being able to make steady progress because of being pulled in the different directions of so many simultaneous projects needing attention.

Any ideas on how to proceed/prioritise them to make it more manageable?

There are a couple of things you can do. The first is a pure Getting Things Done solution. Based on the book by David Allen. 

All work can be categorised into contexts. What this means that any given task, to be completed, needs at least one of three things. A tool, a place or a person. In Getting Things Done speak this is called “a context” So, for example, if you needed to create a presentation, then you would need a computer to do the work. So, “@computer” would be the context. If you needed to talk with your spouse about your son’s next cricket match, then the context would be your spouse. By following what I call a pure GTD approach, you would work from your content lists. So, if you are in front of your computer, the only list you can work from is your @computer list. If you are at the supermarket, the only list you can work from is your @supermarket list etc. 

 If you work from your contexts, ie. Only work on the tasks that you either have the right tools for, are in the right place or are with the right person you will be able to get on with the tasks that you can only work on at that particular moment. All the other tasks, tasks you either do not have the right tools for or are in the right place or with the right person can be forgotten about for now. You cannot do anything about them. 

 This is the logical way to manage this kind of situation, and when you trust it, it does work. If you are using a to-do list manager such as Todoist, then it is easy to open it up with the right label or filter (depending on how you want to work it) Sooner or later you will find your projects are completing. Remember, you can only work on one thing at a time, and by organising your work by context, you are not wasting time trying to figure out what to do next, because your situation will determine that for you. 

In the past, whenever I have ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I have on, it has always been because I have been trying to work on projects and not contexts. Once I have readjusted things and focused on contexts, I very quickly find I am no longer overwhelmed. 

Just as an aside, I should point out to anyone new to using contexts don’t go looking for other people’s contexts. They won’t work. I’ve done that in the past and I soon realised everyone is unique and have different tools, places and people they need to talk to. For someone based in an office, having a context of “office” makes sense. For someone like me who does not work out of an office and does a lot of writing work in coffee shops, a label @Coffee shop makes more sense. You need to figure out your own contexts. The Getting Things Done basic contexts are a good place to start, but you should modify them to fit better with your own personal circumstances. 

The second way would be to theme your days. You could say Monday is for project 1, Tuesday is for project 2, Wednesday for project 3 etc. This means that each project gets an equal amount of attention each week. Of course, this depends on the time sensitivity of each project. You may find you have a deadline for one project on Friday next week, and a second one three weeks later. In that situation, you may want to spend more time each week on the more time-sensitive project. 

One thing I find very helpful is to allow about an hour or two a day to do the random stuff that gets thrown at me. Preparing for this podcast takes me around two hours and I schedule two hours to do it on my calendar. At the same time, I have videos to prepare, classes to teach and student questions to answer. However, I make sure there is at least one hour a day free to deal with the random stuff that gets thrown up. Students trying to reschedule classes, issues related to my websites or online courses etc. That way I manage to keep everything in order and my responses to clients and students done in a timely manner.

There are other things you can do such as identifying which tasks would have the biggest impact on each project’s completion. Doing this as part of your weekly review means you can find time on your calendar to schedule a time to block off to really focus on those tasks. This is akin to Cal Newport’s Deep Work system. You do need to be in control of your work time to be able to do this, but I have found most bosses and clients are sympathetic when you ask to be left alone for a few hours in a quiet place to get on with some deep work. The problem, of course, is most people are too afraid to ask or assume they won’t be allowed and again, don’t ask and so never get left alone to do some deep work.  However, doing things this way you know on a weekly basis that the big tasks are getting done. If you have five projects, then finding one task from each project and making sure you get those tasks done by the end of the day on Wednesday means that Thursday and Friday can be focused on tiding the little tasks up. 

Another thing you could do is spend ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to identify which tasks you must complete the next day and make sure these are done before lunch-time the next day. Make sure you don’t have more than three tasks to do. By the way, this gamification of your most important tasks can add a little fun and a challenge to your workday. This then frees up the afternoons to catch up with all the other things pulling at you. The great thing about doing things this way is you have a wonderful feeling of accomplishment at the end of each day because you managed to get your MITs done before lunch. 

Again, I should emphasise that you can only do one thing at a time. No matter how many tasks, projects and things to do you have, you can only do one at a time. In my experience, a lot of time is wasted figuring out what to do next because the next action has not been properly identified. Being very clear about what the next action is will help you a lot. (I find most people are not) It also means you are spending less time on figuring out what you need to do next and more time on actually doing the necessary steps to take the projects to completion. 

I understand having a huge workload is difficult. But as I say, you can only work on one thing at a time and setting up your system so that you are able to get straight to work on the important things when you sit down to do you work is one step you can take to help you be more efficient and effective with the work you are doing. This way, David Allen and the whole GTD community stress the importance of the Weekly Review. I would go one step further and suggest the daily mini-review is just as important today because since the first edition of GDT was published in 2001, our work has grown exponentially with more distractions and inputs. It now more important than ever to be fully aware of what the next action is on any given project so you can get straight on to it when you start your work. 

To sum up then. If you find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do, try focusing more on your contexts, rather than your projects. Make sure you are doing at least a weekly review so you are fully aware of the status of each project and build in a daily mini-review to identify what the next actions are on each project you are working on. This won’t reduce the work of course, but it will give you peace of mind knowing you are working on the important things and that each project you are working on is getting done. 

I hope you found this episode useful. Don’t forget it you have any questions about productivity, self-development or goal planning then email me, DM me on Facebook or Twitter or ask your question in the comments field on this podcast and I will be very happy to add your question to the list. 

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



The Working With… Podcast 08 - Get Motivated For 2018

January 8, 2018

This first episode of 2018 is the audio from last week's Working With Work video. Because getting yourself motivated and set up for the best year you have ever had is so important, I felt it would help all you guys who prefer listening to podcasts.

Don't forget, if you have any questions you would like me to answer, just drop me a line at and I will be very happy to add your question to the list.

If you would like to see the video of this episode, just click here