The Working With… Podcast
Managing Projects v Managing Tasks Which is More Important?

Managing Projects v Managing Tasks Which is More Important?

August 19, 2019

Are you finding your projects list overwhelming? Then this week’s podcast is just for you. 

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Pathway To A Productive Life Bundle

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The FREE Beginners Guide To Todoist

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 96

Hello and welcome to episode 96 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s question is all about managing an overwhelming projects list. A projects list that keeps moving, changing and growing. The problem here is not actually with your projects list but rather the way you are thinking about your whole system. 

But before we get to this week’s question, I’d just like to remind you about my current coaching offer’s imminent end. It’s true, my coaching programme’s summer offer will be ending this week. Right now you can sign up for the programme for just $99 and if you wish to continue you can save yourself up to $300 on any of my longer programmes. 

I know from my own personal experience how a coach can change your outcomes. As a teenager, I was a pretty useful middle-distance runner. But before I discovered that, a teacher at my school saw me running in a cross country race and recommended I get a coach. He saw something in me I did not see, I guess, but I decided to do just that. I got a coach. 

Very quickly my running got better, my speed endurance improved and my race tactics became sharper and more focused. That was because there was now someone guiding me, encouraging me and making small incremental changes to the way I trained and the way I ran races.

I learned that if you want to perform at your best, you cannot do it alone. To get the best out of yourself you need a coach. Someone on the outside who can help you improve your technique. To hold you accountable when you try to take shortcuts and to keep you focused on the goal. 

So as we head towards the end of this decade and the start of a new decade, now would be the right time to get yourself a coach. Someone to look at your current system and give you guidance, strategies and methods to improve your overall set up so you can start the new decade Sharpe, focused and motivated to make it the best decade of your life. 

All the details of what you get in the programme 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 Dinh Hai. Dinh Hai asks: Hi Carl. I have lots of projects running at the same time. I am having trouble keeping track of all of them. I use Todoist and Evernote quite regularly. Do you have any ideas on managing multiple projects at the same time? 

Thank you, Dinh Hai, for the question. 

Okay, I think we need to go back to basics here. Whether you are using a pure GTD set up that is operating through contexts (people, place or tool) or you have your own setup, a project folder is just a list of tasks related to a single outcome. Unless you decided to work on a single project all day to the exclusion of everything else, then you are never likely to be working from your project folders. So the number of projects you have going on at any one time is not relevant. 

Ultimately, what you do each day is controlled not by the number of projects you have but by the time you have available to do the tasks associated with those projects. You only have 24 hours—the same as everyone else. 

We normally work from a daily list of tasks we have decided we want to do today or we are working from a list of tasks that we can only do given where we are, who we are with or what tools we have available. 

If we did not have these project placeholders, our inboxes would become a very long list of unrelated tasks and ultimately become overwhelming. That’s why we need a way to categorise and organise our tasks. Whether you do that by project or context doesn't really matter. 

So, the only decision you have to make is what will you do today? That is really the only thing you can decide. 

Let’s say you have eight hours to do your work today. So the time available is already decided. The decision you need to make is what will you do during those eight hours? If you receive an email that you know will require two or three hours of work, you need to decide whether you will use two to three of your eight hours today to do that task or spend one hour today and one hour tomorrow. That’s the only decision you can make on that work. Of course, you may have the option to delegate or even not do it at all, but it really does not matter where you put that task. What matters is when will you do it? 

I think sometimes we overthink our productivity systems and make them far more complicated than they need to be. What it comes down to is how much time do you have to complete your tasks and what tasks will you do in that time? 

Now, of course, those decisions will likely be based on time sensitivity—when something is due—and perhaps who gave you the work to do. But those are entirely different decisions to make. The daily decisions you are making are based on what work you will do today given the amount of time you have available. 

This is why your calendar should be a big part of your overall productivity system. Your calendar is going to tell you where you are meant to be, what meetings and appointments you have and how much available time you have to do your tasks. 

Let me give you an example. 

Wednesdays are currently busy teaching days for me. I have five hours of teaching from 8 AM to 6:30 PM. If my working day is between 8 AM and 7 PM that gives me eleven hours of work time. In that time, I will need to find the five hours for teaching—which is fixed, time to eat lunch, exercise, respond to emails and messages and get my daily admin done. I will also need to be aware of the travel time to get to the classes I will teach, which will involve another two to three hours. This means every Tuesday evening when I do my daily planning, I can see there is going to be little or to time for specific project work. 

What I will do is see that I have two to three hours of travel time. That essentially is dead time. I travel by public transport to these classes so the question is what work can I do on my phone while I am travelling? For me, that means responding to emails and messages and writing. That’s it. I cannot design a presentation, record a video or podcast. All I can do is do work related to communication and writing. 

So, as I am planning my day, I can go into my “writing” and “communication” labels in Todoist and look for work that can be done while I am travelling, assign tomorrow’s date to the task and I am good to go. 

This means when I begin my day, the only tasks on my task list for the day are tasks I can do based on where I will be and the available time I have. 

This is why spending ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day looking at your calendar and to-do list planning what you will work on tomorrow is important if you truly want to become more productive. The weekly review is where you make decisions on what you want to accomplish next week and gives you an opportunity to get your projects and other lists cleaned up and current, but it is the daily planning and review where you plan out what you will do the next day. 

Now, I know a lot of people feel everything is important, everything needs to be done right now and they are so much busier than anyone else. The reality though is quite different. Everyone has the same amount of time each day and unless you are working on an assembly line cranking out identical widgets all day, you have some degree of flexibility to decide what you will work on next. 

It does not matter how many projects you have or how many tasks are in those projects, you are constrained by the amount of time available and what type of work you can do based on where you are, what you have with you and who you are with. I would add another factor too—how much energy you have. If you are sick, suffering from a lack of sleep or just exhausted, your effectiveness at doing your work is not going to be great. 

Now you cannot change the laws of physics or the laws of time. You are never going to be able to turn 24 hours into 30 hours. So stop trying to do that. That is just a waste of energy. Instead, work on the things you can affect. That means looking at your calendar, seeing where the gaps are between meetings, training courses, appointments, eating and sleeping and deciding what you will work on from your projects list in that available time. 

Get better at prioritising and planning. Learn to say “no” to new commitments that do not excite you and get enough rest. And remember, none of these tips will be of use to you if you are exhausted and have no energy to do the work you want to do. 

As I keep saying, becoming better organised and more productive is simple. Doing it is a lot harder, but it’s not impossible. The choice you have to make is between trying to do everything at once and accomplishing very little, or being more strategic and planning out the day ahead with a clear mind and intention in a well-rested state. With those, you can accomplish a lot more in a lot less time.

Well, I hope that has helped you Dinh Hai, I know it is hard to prioritise and get everything you have to do in perspective, but remember we cannot change the laws of time and we can only do what we can do in the time we have available each day. 

Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. I am so grateful to all of you because we have, or will have, reached 100,000 downloads of this podcast. I am humbled to be able to help so many people to become better organised and more productive. Thank you all so so much. I want you to know I do this for you and I have no plans to stop doing what I do.

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

How To Simplify Your Productivity System When it Becomes Too Complex.

How To Simplify Your Productivity System When it Becomes Too Complex.

August 12, 2019

Has your system has become overly complex and unwieldy over the years? This week’s podcast is all about getting back to basics.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Pathway To A Productive Life Bundle

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The FREE Beginners Guide To Todoist

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 95

Hello and welcome to episode 95 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Over the years you have probably read all the productivity books, read countless blog posts and watched hundreds of productivity and time management videos. The result? You have created a monster. An overly complex hierarchy of projects, tags and apps that requires so much daily attention there is little time left to actually do the work you want to do. 

If that describes you, and you may have to get really honest with yourself to answer that question, then this week’s question is for you. 

Now don’t worry this happens to us all and it is quite simple to fix it, but it may involve letting go of some of your shiny toys and that can hurt. But, as they say, “no pain, no gain” and that is what this week’s answer is all about - showing you how to gain more time to focus on what really matters to you. 

Now, before we get in to this week’s question, if you have tried over and over again to create a system that works for you, but still feel you have too much stuff to do and don’t know where to start, or you want to start your own business, podcast, blog or YouTube channel and just want some advice on where to start and how to build a successful side business, then take a look at my coaching programmes.

These programmes are designed to give you guidance, help and advice to get moving in the right direction. My programmes have helped hundreds of people find a system that works for them, have built side-businesses, blogs and podcasts that are growing. 

Programmes start at $99 and the 3, 6 and 12-month programmes are on special offer right now. To find out more, I have put a link into the show notes.

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

This week’s question comes from Terry. Hi Carl, I’ve been a productivity nerd for over twenty years now and have read every book I have found on time management and productivity. The problem is I have taken tips and tricks from so many places and downloaded loads of apps, I find I spend so much time updating my to-do list and notes app. I don’t have time to finish all the work I want to finish each day. Do you have any advice to help me get more work done

Hi Terry, thank you for your question. I think this is a problem many people have. 

It’s very easy, over the years, to collect new ways and apps for doing things. We read an article about mind mapping and get ourselves an app like MindNode to do mind mapping. We watch a video on creating a Kanban type board of all our projects and start using Asana or Trello and then we get sucked into the hype surround apps like Notion that promise to be all things. We read about a new way of organising our notes or to-dos and we add that to our system. 

Of course, the problem now is we have a lot of apps doing similar things and a hybrid system of multiple systems that just becomes a confusing mess. 

So how do we sort this out? 

Well, the first step is to stop adding and to start subtracting. Subtracting apps and sections of your productivity system will clear things up pretty quickly. To do that though, you do need to step back first and decide what exactly you want. 

Now, for me, a great productivity system is based on two things. Simplicity and speed. When something is simple to use, you are much more likely to use it and if it is fast you are going to be getting back to the work that matters much faster and you will be less likely to resist collecting what needs collecting. 

So if we start from the premise that your system needs to be fast and simple we can start with COD. Now COD (collect, Organise and Do) is just a simplified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. So it is a good place to start. 

How are you collecting? What’s your “ubiquitous capture tool” or “UCT”? For most people, that’s their mobile phone. Your phone is with you everywhere you go so if you have a thought, or you need to add a task, it is easy to pick up your phone and collect it there. Now, if we go back to the principle that your system needs to be simple and fast the question becomes “How are you collecting stuff”? Are your to-do list and notes apps on the home screen of your phone? How many clicks do you need to make to start typing what you want to collect? 

A good guideline here would be two clicks and type. That’s open the app, click a plus button and type. If you have to click more than twice to start typing, you need to review how you collect. You could use an app like Drafts (if you are an iOS user) that’s one click and type. 

Next up is Organise. How are you organising everything you collected? Now there are two parts to this. There’s processing—that’s the getting what you collected into its rightful place, a folder, a project list etc and deciding what the next action is and when are you going to do it—and there’s the overall organisation of your folders and projects. 

Processing needs to be fast. The way to make processing fast is to organise your projects and files in a simple way as possible. For example, only have active projects in your projects list. Anything else should be in a someday maybe list—for me that would mean anything that is not due to start for six months or more would not be in my active projects list. These projects would be held in my Someday | Maybe folder and would only move up to my active projects list when they are due within the next six months. 

When you are fully aware of your projects and what is going on in your world, processing becomes much faster. There’s little to no hesitation about where something should go because you have clearly defined projects. 

This means the way you organise your folders also needs to be simple and as accessible as possible. I have an active folders list in iCloud. Anything I am working on will have a folder in my active folders list. That includes this podcast, my YouTube channel, my blog posts as well as my current active projects. I can access any of these folders simply by opening up iCloud. Processing and organising at the end of the day rarely takes me longer than fifteen minutes. 

If it takes you longer than fifteen minutes to clean up your files and process your to-do list inbox at the end of the day, that’s an indication things are a little too complex. Go back and look at how your folders and projects are organised. Do you really need to have so many sub-projects? Are all your folders clearly defined? If not then start simplifying. 

Now on to the tools. 

This is often where most problems start. The latest cool app might sound and look good, but when you start adding all these apps to do different things you will find you start duplicating. When you start duplicating that will cause a drag on your system and slow you down. For example, Notion is the hottest kid on the block now. Notion can essentially be everything for you. If can be a wiki of information, a goal planning tool, a notes app even a to-do list. 

Now the problem here is what if you already have a to-do list manager and a notes app? Let’s say you use Microsoft OneNote and have done for years. You know OneNote inside out and when you use it, you do not have to think about creating a new note, a checklist or clip an article from a blog you liked. Every year for the last five years you have developed your goals in OneNote and you have a wonderful archive of project notes, goals and other stuff in there. 

If you add Notion to your tool kit what will you use Notion for? While Notion may present the information more beautifully than OneNote, no matter what you use Notion for, you are now going to have two places where something could be. It’s another app that needs managing and it’s another app that needs to be learnt. That will slow you down and add complexity.

In this situation, to stay effective and efficient, you are going to have to choose between OneNote and Notion. If you feel Notion is so much better than OneNote then fine, start migrating all your notes to Notion and from now on only use Notion. There will be a learning curve, but after a little time, you will learn to use Notion effectively. 

The thing is, there’s going to be a time cost involved in switching over. So you will have to decide whether that time cost can be repaid once you are up and running with Notion. Remember, great productivity systems are built on simplicity and speed. Will Notion make you that much faster? 

The way to simplify and get faster so you can spend more time getting the work done is to review all the tools you use and decide if they really are the best tools for the job. For writing I use Ulysses. I know it inside out and all my written work is organised cleanly and simply in there. Once something has been written, edited and published, the written piece gets placed into an archive. It’s a simple process and takes just a few seconds to organise. 

I use Apple’s Pages and Numbers for specific work. For formatted written work, I use Pages. I don’t have to think about whether to use Pages, Word or Google Docs. If a written piece of work needs formatting and exporting as a PDF, then it’s Pages. Likewise for my admin work. If I need to monitor and measure some information, it will be created in Numbers. Again, I don’t have to think about what tool to use. 

Al this keeps my whole system simple. Specific tools for specific jobs and no duplication. 

So there you go Terry. To get things back to a more manageable system, do a complete review. It may take you a whole day to do this, but in this case, the time/cost-benefit will be worth it. Purge apps you don’t use or create duplication. Choose one tool for each type of work you do. 

Review how you are organising your projects and folders. Ask yourself if this is the best and fastest way to organise this stuff. If it is not, review it and find a more simple and faster way to organise them. 

And remember, all great productivity systems are built on the foundations of quick and easy to collect, organise so you can spend more time doing the work itself. When you free up more time to do the work and spend less time in your productivity systems you have more free time at the end of the day and that’s always a good thing. 

I hope that has helped, Terry, and thank you for your question. Thank you also 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 Twitter or Facebook and I will be happy to answer your question. 

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

 

How To Organise Your University/College life

How To Organise Your University/College life

August 5, 2019

This week, it’s all about building a personal learning system using the productivity tools we all have.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Pathway To A Productive Life Bundle

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The FREE Beginners Guide To Todoist

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 94

Hello and welcome to episode 94 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s show, I’m answering a question about developing a personal learning system using the tools we use or can use every day. Now I did this last year when I developed my own system for learning Korean and you can use a similar system for creating your own education system whether you just want to have a continuous learning system or you are going back to university in the next couple of months.

Now, before we get into this week’s question, I’d like to tell you about my Pathway to Productivity course bundle. This bundle contains From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days, Your Digital Life 2.0 and Time And Life Mastery 3. It is everything you need to build your very own productivity system—a system that not only handles your current work and your backlog but also shows you how to develop and build in your goals to your everyday life. 

No matter where you are in your goal planning and productivity journey, this bundle of courses will give you everything you are looking for and is only $145.00. Details of the bundle are in the show notes.

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

This week’s question comes from Kalp. Kalp asks: Hi Carl, I heard you talking about developing a system for learning a language and I was wondering if you could tell me how I could create my own learning system. I recently started at university and I am struggling to keep all my learning materials and notes together so I can find them later. 

Great question and a timely one too, Kalp as I know many people will be returning to university and college soon after the summer break.

Okay, the first thing you are going to have to decide is where will you keep your notes? There are a lot of choices here but you do need to choose carefully. Your notes, class handouts and other learning materials need to be searchable and you need a notes app that is robust enough to hold all sorts of documents. 

The two big players in this field are Evernote and Microsoft OneNote. There is little to choose between them but OneNote may have the edge as it is free. Evernote does have better search functionality, but if you organise your materials effectively, then OneNote will be perfectly fine for this job. 

When organising your notes app make sure you create notebooks (both Evernote and OneNote call folders “notebooks”) for each subject you are studying. You want to be able to open the app and get straight to the materials you have for each subject quickly and efficiently. It’s no good, having a notebook called “science” and then having a mix of biology, chemistry and physics scattering around that notebook. Separate them out. In this example, create individual notebooks for biology, chemistry and physics. 

Just one tip here. If you have digital textbooks and large PDF files, I would recommend you use a cloud-based storage system. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or Apple’s iCloud would work well here. Just create a folder for each subject you are studying in your cloud drive. While OneNote and Evernote will hold these documents for you, because of their size they will slow down your notes app. 

What I do here with my teaching materials is to divide the textbooks up into chapters and add the chapters individually to my notes app for better digital annotations. But that rather depends whether you want to use a tablet for annotating your learning materials or not. 

And that leads me nicely to how you will take your notes. If you prefer the digital way, then here Microsoft OneNote is great. Using a stylus or Apple Pencil with OneNote is a great experience—particularly on an iPad. Evernote falls rather short here and I would not recommend using Evernote as your digital writing tool. Hopefully, that will be an area Evernote fixes pretty soon. 

For me, I use an app called Notability. It has fantastic digital annotation functionality and all my teaching materials are kept in here. 

If you prefer to use pen and paper for taking your lecture notes then I would suggest you buy A4 ring bound notebooks for each subject you are studying. Make sure you label the notebooks clearly or buy different colours for each subject. These notebooks are light and easy to carry in a bag. 

A good practice to get into the habit of doing is scanning your notes into your notes app at the end of each day. That way you will always have a backup copy of your notes and you can use them for studying for you example later from any device you have wit you. 

Next up your calendar. My advice would be to go with Google Calendar. Almost all universities and colleges with have a link you can subscribe to which will populate your calendar with the right events and classes. Make sure you subscribe to your course’s calendar subscription feed, rather than the university’s main feed. You don’t want to be seeing stuff you are not interested in there. 

If there isn’t a way to subscribe to a calendar, then you will need to add your lectures and tutorial classes manually. Save yourself time by making them recurring events. You can always delete individual classes when they come up. 

Make sure you add the dates for submitting course work and assignments. Put them in as all-day events that way they are clearly seen at the top of your calendar. 

Now for your to-do list, Here you want to create project folders for each subject you are learning. For example, when I was at university studying law we studied five individual subjects each academic year. In one year we may have had Contract Law, Tort, Land Law, EU Law and Law and Legal Skills. Each one of those subjects needs to be individual projects. As you go through your studies there will be tasks you need to do related to those subjects and you can put them in there. These tasks could be things like research Donohue v Stephenson or begin writing an assignment on medical negligence. 

Now the final part to your set up is to create a social project too. Part of being at university is the social side and having a project for your social life is just one of those things you will need to manage.

Now, one of the best ways to stay on top of your studies is to make full use of your calendar. Once you have your lecture and tutorial sessions in your calendar you will see where you will have time for doing your studies. Schedule your study time on your calendar. How you do this is really up to you. For me, I would always schedule my study time on a week to week basis. It becomes part of a weekly review. Often I found there were group sessions that needed to be scheduled as well as my social life—a band I wanted to see was visiting the student union club for instance. So trying to set my self-study time in stone was not really possible. Maintaining a little flexibility here really helps. It also means you can add more study sessions as assignments become due or you are preparing for exams. 

So how does all this work on a day to day basis? 

Well, as you go through your day with lectures and tutorial sessions you are going to be picking up tasks. You can collect these into your to-do list manager’s inbox. Process you inbox every 24 to 48 hours and get those inbox tasks into their correct project folder and dated, if necessary. 

But the biggest task you will have on a day to day basis is to make sure you are keeping your study materials up to date. If you let this slip, it will very quickly become a mess. Just ten to twenty minutes each day will keep you up to date and current. For me, I would create a recurring task for every Monday to Friday to clean up my study materials. Scan in anything that needs adding and making sure all my lecture notes are filed into their correct place. I would also make sure I did this at the same time every day. Either just before or after dinner or first thing in the morning. It does not take long if you do it daily, it becomes a nightmare if you leave it and do it weekly. That’s when you forget what something means to you and if you haven’t titled or dated the notes correctly it becomes impossible to keep up. Do it daily. You will thank yourself for that later. 

And finally, before you start, take my Beginners course on COD (Collect Organise and Do) - it’s free and it will give you everything you need to get your system set up. 

Getting set up and ready now will save you a lot of stress and organising once you get to your university or college. It is not difficult to stay on top of things. It’s as Jim Rohn said: “a few simple disciplines practised every day”. That’s all you need. Just ten to twenty minutes daily and you will very easily keep up to date and organised and will have a very pleasant time during your studies. 

I hope that has answered your question, Kalp. Thank you for sending it in and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, just send me an email carl@carlpullein.com or DM me of Facebook or Twitter. I will be very happy to answer your question.

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

 

How To Get control of Your Distractions and Interruptions

How To Get control of Your Distractions and Interruptions

July 29, 2019

This week I have a fantastic question about managing interruptions and distractions throughout the day.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The FREE Beginners Guide To Todoist

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Script

Episode 92

Hello and welcome to episode 93 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Okay, so we all get them, they are a part of life and they can cause us so much stress and pull us away from the work that is important to us. What am I talking about? I’m talking about all those interruptions from colleagues, customers and clients and yes, friends and family. What can we do to, not eliminate them—after all that’s not going to be possible—but at least reduce the impact they have on our day? That’s the topic for this week’s podcast.

Now, before I get into this week’s question, for all you newbie Todoist users, don’t forget I have just launched my new, FREE, Getting Started With Todoist online course. It’s around one hour in length and will take you through everything you need to know to set up Todoist, understand how tasks and dates work and build a fully functioning system. The course is available on my learning centre as well as on Skillshare. To enrol in the course you can find all the links in the show notes. 

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

This week’s question comes from Neil. Neil asks: Hi Carl, could you share your thoughts or system that will help me to resume my work after getting interrupted. I am not distracted by social media much, but I am facing these kinds of issues and it's slowing down my productivity. 

Great question, Neil. 

Being interrupted while at work is just a part of life. It would be very rare for us to ever be in a situation where we could go all day without any interruptions. Things like other people’s emergencies, customers urgently needing the answer to a simple question and our boss wanting something done yesterday. 

Now I feel I am quite lucky here because in the distant past I spent four happy years working in hotel management and in the hotel industry, the guests always come first. This meant that no matter what I was doing if a guest asked for something everything had to be dropped and whatever the guest wanted, if it was possible, we attended to it right away. That could be something as simple as an ironing board or something more complex such as finding a suitable meeting room. Whatever it was it had to be done immediately. 

And the worst thing of all, these interruptions came in the form of a beeper. A little black box that you attached to your belt via a clip and whenever you were needed, you would be ‘bleeped’. It was horrible. I still have nightmares of that beeping sound almost twenty-five years later!!! When it did bleep you either picked up the nearest phone and dialled 1 or you ran up to reception and asked what they wanted. 

I have to say, though, it was a great way to stay fit and healthy. Eight and a half hours of running around. Nothing beats that for keeping the weight off!! 

To manage all these interruptions, and if you were the duty manager that day you had to deal with them yourself, I always carried a little notebook with me with a list of all the things I needed to do during my shift. When we started a shift we did a handover with the manager who was on duty before, so you knew about any issues and you also knew what needed to be prepared for while you were on shift. That could be a meeting, a special dinner or a VIP guest arriving. 

I would write down all the things that needed to be done while I was on shift on one page of that notebook. Then as I went through my shift I crossed off what I had done while I was doing them. 

This meant that as the bleeps came, and they always did, I could stop what I was in the middle of, deal with the interruption and once I had dealt with the guest or problem I would check my notebook and return to where I was before I was interrupted. 

It was a simple, easy way of making sure I did not end up with a lot of half-finished jobs by the time I finished my shift, 

Now, of course, we have smartphones which beep and buzz all day and a lot of those beeps and buzzes are not important at all. We have to exercise a little judgment. For the most part, I have notifications turned off. The only notifications I have turned on are for text messages as any text message that comes in is likely to be reasonably urgent. It could be a student telling they need to cancel their class or it could be my wife asking me something—and whatever that is, it is ALWAYS urgent and has to be done NOW.

However, I do still follow the same ‘system’ I developed while I worked in the hotel industry all those years ago. Instead of carrying a little notebook with me though, I have my phone and I have a list of all the things I need to do today in my to-do list manager. 

These days, it is a little easier, the work I do now and the work I guess most of you do today is not as diverse as the kind of work you have to do in hotel management. Right now, for example, I am recording this podcast, my phone is on do not disturb and so is my computer. For the next thirty minutes, I cannot be disturbed as I record this. 

However, let’s say as I am recording this, there’s a knock at the door and my dog barks—he has his job to do - to protect me from the postman. That would destroy any recording I have done and I need to attend to whoever is at the door. So I stop recording, thank the dog for protecting me and ruining the recording, and see who is at the door. Once that is done, I can return to my recording. 

Now I have a decision to make. Do I pick up where I left off and edit out the bark, or do I start recording from the start again? But that’s all I need to do. 

And that’s really the key here. Having clearly defined tasks.

Okay, so recording a podcast is an easy thing to get back to. What about if you were working on a complex Excel file? Now this one is a bit more difficult. If you are interrupted while in the middle of that kind of work, it could take a long time to get back to where you needed to be. For that kind of work, you really have to go ‘dark’ as I like to call it. Going ‘dark’ means you need to come off the grid and remove any possibility of interruptions. 

That means your phone needs to be off, you need to ‘disappear’ and that means finding a place to work where you will not be disturbed. 

Now, what I’ve found is if you tell people—your colleagues, boss and clients that there will be times when you are not contactable but you will always return calls and emails as soon as you are finished, people understand. They often say they envy your discipline (ah, there’s that word again) It’s simply not true to say “my customers do not understand”. Your customers are humans too. They would understand if you set the boundaries. Most people do not set boundaries. 

And that takes me to the next point. Managing expectations. If you are serious about getting your important work done, you have to do this. You have to manage the expectations of those around you. If you were to tell everyone that between 10 am and 12 pm you would not be available because that is when you get on with doing your work, everyone would respect that. In almost twenty years of working in law and teaching, I have never once had anyone get upset because for two hours each day I was not available, Never. In fact, what I have found is I have received a lot more respect from clients and students and other faculty members than my colleagues who are always available have. 

I do this with email too. I tell everyone I will always reply within twenty-four hours. And I stick to that rule. This is why my “action Today” folder in email is so effective. I set the sorting to first in at the top and the last email in at the bottom. That way, the oldest email is at the top and I can quickly see when it came in and when I need to reply by. If I cannot answer the email because I am waiting for more information, I will still reply within 24 hours and explain I am still waiting for information. 

For most of us, we need to be available to our clients, customers, colleagues and bosses for most of the day. But that does not mean you have to be available for the full eight to tens hours of your working day. Tell the key people in your work life that you need to go dark at some point in the day to get on with your work. I have a client who is a doctor who goes dark between 5 pm and 6 pm every day to do his processing and daily mini-review and deal with the email in his “Action Today” folder. It helps him to stay on top any backlog and his patients all know he cannot be contacted between those times. He never has any problems and no one has got upset because they cannot contact him during that time. 

When you have a realistic list of the work you have to do each day on your daily to-do list, you use your calendar to block time off each day for focused work you will always know what you need to do. If you do get disturbed while you are in the middle of something just make a note of where you are and deal with the interruption. 

If you need your full concentration for a piece of work, then put all your devices on do not disturb and get on with the work. I promise you, no one will be upset if you are unavailable for an hour or two. 

I hope that has helped you in some way, Neil. I know it is not easy to set boundaries and to go ‘dark’, but try it for a week. You will be surprised at what happens. People do understand and you will find people will respect your time a lot more than if you made yourself available all the time. Set some boundaries, manage expectations and you will see a huge boost in your productivity.

Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast all you have to do is email me or DM me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be very happy to answer your question. 

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

 

How To Process Your Inboxes Effectively

How To Process Your Inboxes Effectively

July 22, 2019

This week I have a fantastic question about the difference between processing and doing and when to apply the two-minute rule.

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The FREE Beginners Guide To Todoist

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Script

Episode 92

Hello and welcome to episode 92 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a fantastic question about processing items in your inboxes. This question perfectly describes a problem I see many people have when it comes to using GTD—or COD—for that matter and that is the speed you process the items you collect throughout the day. The problem though does not end with the items you have collected that day, it also affects how you process your email and collected notes.

Now before we get to this week’s question, I would like to tell you about my new FREE, beginners guide to Todoist course. This course is a simple, onboarding course to help you get started with Todoist. It covers all the basics and allows you to develop a system that will work for you. The course is ideal for anyone you would like to introduce to Todoist and also if you are new to Todoist, then this will get you set up and running in next to no time at all. 

Of course, for all you advanced users out there, I have over 200 videos on Todoist over on my YouTube channel, so if this course does not cover what you are looking for, I am sure you will find it on my YouTube channel. 

Oh, and don’t forget my summer sale on my coaching programmes. You can save yourself up to $200 by getting yourself into the programme now. Details of what you will receive from the programme are all in the show notes to this podcast. 

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

This week’s question comes from Justin. Justin asks: Hi Carl, I’ve watched many of your videos and you often talk about processing your inbox as only taking around 10 to 20 minutes. For me, it takes more than 30 minutes - often an hour - is there anything I am doing wrong? 

Hi Justin, thank you very much for your question.

Let’s start with a recap on what processing is. Processing, or organising, is where you sort out everything you have collected into your inboxes and make decisions on them based on what a collected item is, what needs doing with it and where to put it. In theory, this should be relatively quite a simple task, yet I know it causes people so many problems that in the end they resist doing it and things start to build up in inboxes. When that happens you soon stop collecting and that’s a sign your system has failed and you need to reassess your structure and overall system. 

Now, there are two inboxes that will need your attention every day - or at least every forty-eight hours. Your to-do list manager’s inbox and your email inbox.

Let's deal with what you collect in your todo list manager’s inbox first. 

Here we have some control over what’s in there. When you are collecting notes and to-dos you get to choose where they go—tasks go into your to-do list, ideas and plans to your notes app. Now in the rush to collect something, we may not have defined whether something is a task or a note. That’s okay, but you will need to make that decision at some point. If you have time when you collect the item, make that decision then. That will save you time later. 

With email, you have little control over what comes in. That said, I do think you have more control than you probably think. For example, do you really need to subscribe to all those newsletters? Do you really need all your LinkedIn and social media notifications coming to your inbox every day? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. That a choice you can make. 

You can also set up rules in most email apps that will filter emails as they come in. You can arrange it so that all newsletters get automatically sent to a specified newsletter folder for example or have emails that have you as a cc’d recipient send to a specific folder—when you are a cc’d recipient it generally means the email is for your reference only. The only thing you will need to with these folders is to make sure you are reading and reviewing them once a week or so. I would set up a recurring task in my to-do list to remind me to do this. 

Next up, do not confuse processing with doing. What I see is people going through their inboxes and trying to do the tasks instead of making decisions about them. Now, of course, you may say what about the two-minute rule? I’d say what about it? You see you need to apply the two-minute strategically. If you have an inbox of 100 items and you apply the two-minute rule to just ten of those items, that’s twenty-minutes gone. In those twenty minutes, you could easily have cleared your inbox. 

And that the thing here. What are you trying to achieve? Clear the inbox or do the work? The two parts are very different. 

The problem I have seen if you combine doing the work and processing you don't do a very good job at either. You don't get as much work done as you would hope and you still have unprocessed items left in your inbox. 

It is far better to focus on processing only. Decide what something is and what needs to happen—if anything— next. Once those decisions have been made you can put the item where it needs to go. Using keyboard shortcuts and drag and drop I’ve found to be the fastest way to do this. 

Processing is all about speed. The faster you can do it, the sooner you can get down to doing your work. If you spend too much time deciding what something is and what to do about it, then your processing will take far too long. This is why the way you structure your to-do list manager, email and note app is important. If your projects, folders and notebooks are too vague or are very similar in nature you will find you hesitate before making a decision. It will drag down the speed at which you process. When you have clear, well-defined projects and notebooks then you will make your decisions about where something should go much faster. 

Of course, if you have plenty of time to do your processing and you do not have many items to process, then you can apply the two-minute rule. I often do this when I process my to-do list inbox at the end of the day. If I have less than ten items in there I will do those tasks that will take less than two minutes. Yesterday, I collected a task to save Fast and Furious 6 to my watch list on Netflix for example. A less than two minute task. I just went over to Netflix, found the film and saved it to my watch list and cleared the task—I’m catching up on the Fast and Furious franchise of films at the moment.

However, if there are a lot of items in my inbox, then the focus is on processing those items. I will just process everything first. I will leave tasks that can be done in two minutes or less in the inbox if I intend to do them in that session of work, but if not, they get processed and organised in their rightful folder. Remember organising and doing are two entirely different things. 

Now you may find your notes app inbox does not get that many items in it on a day to day basis. I don’t collect items into Evernote every day, so I don’t process that every day. Anything going into Evernote will not be urgent or time-sensitive for me. They are often things I want to read later, ideas that I want to develop at some time in the future or an article I think will be useful for a book or blog post I am writing. As I don’t send too many items there, I only process it once a week. Usually, I have around twenty to thirty items to process, so I can get those processed and organised in less than twenty minutes. 

If you use an app like Drafts, you can collect a lot of your stuff, such as items to a checklist or ideas list directly, and bypass the inbox. That’s a real time saver. 

Also, with apps like Evernote you get a unique email address you can use to send items directly to your inbox, you can use this email address for subscribing to newsletters. This then brings the newsletter direct to your Evernote inbox and I can process it from there instead of my email. Again it’s really all about saving time and speeding up the processing time.

Before we finish this episode let me share with you an area of processing I do every morning. It might help to give you an idea of how long your processing should take. 

Because I live over in the Far East, while I am asleep, North and South America and Europe are awake. So, when I wake up in the morning I will often have over a hundred emails in my inbox. Now, before I take a shower I boil my egg and to get the water boiling and the egg cooked to my favourite level, it takes 12 minutes. That gives me twelve minutes to process just over one hundred emails. Often I can actually do that in under ten minutes, but on average, because I only allow my egg boiling time to process those emails, I will get it done. 

For me, it’s simply just about making a decision about what something is, whether I want to take action on it or read it later. Because those folders are at the top of my email folder list, I just drag and drop them as I go through my inbox. Once finished, I have an empty inbox, a list of actionable emails I have twenty-four hours to respond to—my personal rule: respond to all emails within twenty-four hours—and I’m ready to step into the shower and really start my day. 

And that’s the goal to have, process as fast as you can and then get on do the work that matters most to you. 

I hope that’s given you some ideas, Justin. Thank you for your excellent question. And thank you to you too for listening. 

Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, just send me an email or DM me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be happy to answer your question if I can.

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

Mid Year Goal Planning and Corrections with Kev Blackburn (part 2)

Mid Year Goal Planning and Corrections with Kev Blackburn (part 2)

July 19, 2019

Podcast 90

This week I am delighted to welcome back to the show, Kev Blackburn. 

In this episode, part 2 of 2) we continue our talk about getting back on track if you have fallen slightly behind on your goals. 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

Kev’s YouTube Channel

 

Mid-Year Goal Planning And Correction With Kev Blackburn (Part 1)

Mid-Year Goal Planning And Correction With Kev Blackburn (Part 1)

July 15, 2019

Podcast 89

This week I am delighted to welcome back to the show, Kev Blackburn. 

In this episode, part 1 of 2) we talk about getting back on track if you have fallen slightly behind on your goals. 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

Kev’s YouTube Channel

 

How To Manage Multiple Email Accounts

How To Manage Multiple Email Accounts

July 8, 2019

This week we are back to managing email and how to manage multiple email accounts.

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

 

Script

Episode 88

Hello and welcome to episode 88 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

We’re back to email this week with a very interesting question about managing multiple email addresses and whether to have them all in one place or to have different apps for different email addresses—a sort of compartmentalisation for email. 

If you haven't discovered already, my summer coaching sale has begun. In this sale, you can get incredible savings on my coaching programmes. 

I want to help as many people as I can to become better organised and more productive and I know investing in online courses or coaching programmes might not be everyone’s priority. But I strongly believe when you invest just a small amount of money in yourself, your wellbeing and your ability to handle stress you are investing in something much more than a short-term dopamine hit, you are investing in something that will stay with you for life. 

If you want to learn more about the savings you can make head over to my website and discover so much more. The link is in the show notes. 

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

This week’s question comes from Salvatore. Salvatore asks: Hi Carl, I have four email addresses: work, personal and two volunteer group emails. What do you recommend? One email app per address (Outlook, Gmail, web) or should I have all emails delivered to one inbox and filter somehow. Thank you!

Thank you, Salvatore, for your question. 

Many people have multiple email addresses. We have our work email address, a personal address and probably a few others we have accumulated over the years. The question is how do we manage all those emails. 

The ideal is to have one email app and have all your accounts coming in to that one email account. Now of course, I know this might not be possible in all cases. You may have Outlook for your business email and you company could have strict policies about how you use that account. In that case, you have no choice. In many ways that can work for you as it will enable you to place a hard edge between your work and your personal life. 

But let’s zoom out a little here. Email, whether it is a business related email or a personal one is still the same thing functionally. It is an input that needs a decision making on it. What do you need to do with the email? Reply? Save it for reference? Send it to someone else to deal with or delete it. It does not matter where that email comes from. You still need to make a decision about it. So, having everything come in to one place rather than multiple apps means you have less to check and therefore there less chance anything will get missed. 

I use Apple Mail both on my computer and my phone and iPad. All emails I receive come into that one app. I have folders set for each account though. For example, my two businesses - the productivity work and my English communication work each have their own email addresses. I also have a personal account for personal messages and online shopping. They all come in to the one app and one inbox.

My basic email folder structure is:

Action Today - this folder is for any email that requires action. It could be a reply, it could be something I have to read or it could be something else I need to do. If whatever it is I need to do will take longer than two minutes, then I will put the email into that folder for the right account. 

Next up I have my Waiting For folder. Usually, the only emails in there are emails I am waiting for something to be delivered. Online shopping for example and occasionally an email I waiting for a reply on. I check this folder once a day and once I have received the order or the reply I am waiting for I will remove the email and archive it. 

Then there is my archive folder for everything else. Once I have dealt with an email I will swipe left and the email automatically goes off to my archive folder. 

The question most people have is what about emails related to specific projects. This one is really your call. If you feel more comfortable having emails related to projects you are working on in one place, you can create folders for those specific projects. I don’t typically do this, but I do create specific folders for trips I am making. For example, last April when I went over to the UK and Ireland I created a folder for that trip because I have airline itineraries as well as hotel booking confirmations and car hire details. I wanted to have all these in one place in case I needed them while I was on the trip. 

Once I got back home I archived all those emails and deleted the folder. 

I have another trip coming up in September when I will be going over to Singapore. Again, I have created a folder specifically for that trip so all my hotel booking confirmations and flight itineraries are kept in there. This means if I need to access any information quickly at an airport or hotel, I can get it very quickly without having to search through all my emails. 

Now, if you do have strict rules about what comes in to your work email account you have no choice. You will have to have separate email apps for your personal email and your work email. That should not be a big problem though. The only thing you need to do is to make sure you are processing your personal email every twenty-four to forty-eight hours. 

This can be easily forgotten as you probably don’t treat personal email as important as your work email. A tip here would be to use your to-do list manager to remind you to check your personal email once a day. If you only check it once a week or once every few days its inbox will fill up and you will have to spend a lot of time clearing it out. Spending ten minutes or so each day processing your inbox here will keep you up to date and make sure you are not missing anything important. 

I think the biggest problem with email is we treat it as something more than just another input. But that it really all it is. It’s another input of stuff requiring your attention and a decision. So the secret, if it really is a secret, is to make sure you are processing it regularly and make those decisions about what needs to happen with it. Creating a system for processing your inbox or inboxes will help you to become much faster at making those decisions over time. If you can have all your email coming in to one app, that’s ideal. But if that is not possible, then make sure you build the system of processing your various accounts on a daily basis. Work related email may need checking several times a day, your personal email less frequently. That’s the choice you need to make. 

For me, the advantage of using Apple’s Mail app is its ability to create rules within the Mac OS system. Sadly this does not work on iOS mail, but I have created a unified Action Today smart folder where all my actionable emails come into one folder on my Mac. All three of my accounts have an Action Today folder and I want to see all these emails in one place. To do that I set up a Smart Mailbox to collect any email that I have designated as an Action Today email. I have tested many email apps over the years and I have never found an app that will allow me to do that. Newton, Spark and AirMail allow me to have multiple accounts but these are all separated within the app. So, if I use any of those apps I have to check three folders for actionable emails. With Mac OS Mail, I only have one folder to check. 

To overcome this, you can flag actionable emails, and most of these third party apps will collect all your flagged emails into one place. Once you have dealt with the email you can simply unflag it. It’s not a perfect way to do it, but it does work. 

So there you go, Salvatore. I hope that has helped. Try to keep all your accounts in one app. If that is not possible make sure you are using the minimum number of apps and check them everyday so they do not start to become overwhelming. Doing that should help you to keep everything under control. And remember, any email—personal or work related—is still just another input you need to make a decision on and then do something about it. 

Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you’d like answering, then you can email me - carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes. 

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

 

How To Choose The Right Productivity Apps For You.

How To Choose The Right Productivity Apps For You.

July 1, 2019

Do find you are always looking for the best app for your productivity yet never seem to be able to find it? This week, I answer a question that might just help.

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

 

Script

Episode 87

Hello and welcome to episode 87 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s it’s all about productivity apps and how to get the right one and more importantly stick with it once you have made the decision. 

But before we get into this week’s question, don’t forget the Time And Life Mastery online course has been updated. It’s a great course that will show you how to develop a plan for your life and then how to create the process for achieving it. 

This course has helped thousands of people over the years and now it has been completely updated, re-recorded and is proving to be a bit of a best seller. So get yourself enrolled and take control of your life and your time now.

Details of the course are in the show notes. I can’t wait to see you on the course soon.

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

This week’s question comes from Heather. Heather asks: Hi Carl, I’ve been trying to get myself more organised over the last year or so, but I can’t seem to find the right apps. I’ve tried so many, but find I am soon looking for another one. Do you have any tips that will help me to find the right apps? There’s just so many to choose from. 

Thank you, Heather, for your question. I’ve written a lot about this over the years because I used to be obsessed with the latest and shiniest new apps. I tried pretty much everything out there, always telling myself that this new app was going to solve all my productivity problems. I think on some weird, deep level I hoped these new apps would do the work for me. 

The truth is, no app is ever going to do the work for you and the latest and shiniest app will have the just as many frustrations as the previous app you used. 

Let me give you an example. When the new Apple Notes app came out two or three years ago, I thought this is it! This is the perfect app. Built for the Apple ecosystem and with the Apple Pencil in mind. I thought, finally an app that would rival Evernote and give me everything I wanted. 

Ha! That didn't happen. Apple Notes is great for taking notes, there’s no question there. But you wait until you have a few hundred notes in there and you want to find a note you made several months earlier. Good luck with that. 

So while Apple Notes does look better than Evernote, in my opinion, it doesn't come close to being as good as Evernote when you want to find a specific note. 

I had the same issue when Notion came along. I spent a whole afternoon playing around with it. WOW! This app promised to do so much. It could be a place for me to store my goals and plans, be a research tool and be a replacement for Evernote. It appeared to be able to do everything for me. I was particularity drawn to the idea of it being able to act as a dashboard for me. A place where I could see all my open projects, goals and other stuff I wanted to see on a daily basis. 

As I played around with it I began to realise that while Notion could do so much, what it could do was not as good as the existing tools I was using. I could see so many frustrations. So the advantage of having everything managed in one app, was negated by the compromises I would have to make and of course, there was the problem with all those settings. When you have an app that allows you to customise almost everything from fonts, background colours and images, you are never satisfied, so you spend a lot of time messing around with them and not doing any work. (Although you convince yourself you are doing work because all these changes to your settings will somehow improve your workflow) 

So, you need to choose your apps with care. To do that, the best place to start is with a pen and piece of paper. Ask yourself what do you want your apps to do for you? 

Let’s take your to-do list manager for example. Do you prefer to see things in a simple list, or are you more of a visual person? Do you prefer to see things as cards or as lists of projects? Apps like Things, OmniFocus and Todoist will give you your to-dos in a simple list format. Or would you prefer to see things in a more Kanban layout where you see your projects as cards on a board? For that, an app like Trello or Asana would be a good fit. 

When it comes to notes, again how you want your notes to be presented to you is important. Google Keep gives a card like layout, Evernote and Apple Notes will give you a more traditional list layout. 

Another question for your notes app is how many notes will you want to keep in there? If you are planning on storing all your digital notes in the app, then Evernote or Microsoft OneNote is the way forward. If it is just a few notes, a quick place to capture your ideas, then something like Apple Notes or Google Keep would work well. But, and this is a big but, you need to choose something that works for you. 

And that really is the point here, Heather. Find something that you like and works for the way you like to work. I’ve done the “if it works for that organised person then it must work for me” thing in the past. The truth is it will not necessarily work for you. We all work differently, think differently and have different ideas about what looks nice and what doesn’t. Many people don't like the way Evernote looks, that’s okay. I’ve got past that. Many people cannot. There are plenty of functional, aesthetically pleasing apps to choose from out there. Personally, I think Microsoft OneNote looks better than Evernote, but that’s just a personal thing.

Once you have chosen what apps you want to use, then the next stage of the process begins. Learn everything you possibly can about the app. Go to YouTube, find tutorials, read blogs and go through every menu item to see what each one does. Set up a ghost project (a fake project to use for experimentation) in your chosen to do list manager and test out every possible variation you can think of. 

That’s really the trick with becoming better organised and more productive. Knowing how to use your apps. Knowing how to quickly add a new item, process that item to its correct place and being able to retrieve it when you need it quickly and effortlessly. 

And that brings me to collecting stuff. For me, this is the biggest one. If it is quick and easy to collect my to-dos and notes, I am not going to resist. If it is complicated, involves too many button clicks or I have to think too much, I will resist. Reducing the button pushes and clicks for me is vital. I have what I call “the changing trains” test. Can I easily collect a thought or idea when I am changing trains? I do actually test this. Any new way of collecting must pass that test before I adopt that new approach. If you can collect a task, idea or note while switching trains then it is fast enough. There must be a lot of people in Seoul who think I am very strange taking into my phone or watch to test while switching trains to see how fast collecting is haha.

Another consideration for me is how easy is it to organise my projects? You see, you do not want to be spending too much time inside your productivity tools. You productivity tools are not where your work happens. Your work happens in your email apps, Microsoft Word, Google Docs or PowerPoint or Keynote. The more time I spend inside my writing app, Ulysses, for example, the better. That’s where the work happens. The productivity apps I use must have drag and drop for tasks into projects for example. I can process an inbox of 15 tasks in Todoist to their rightful projects in less than five minutes. That includes adding any necessary dates, priorities or labels. The same with Evernote, I process my Evernote inbox every weekend—usually as part of my weekly review and I can easily process twenty to thirty notes in less than ten minutes. 

But processing is not the only thing that needs to be fast. Being able to search and find what you are looking for is also a crucial element. If searching for something is laborious or difficult then the app fails my tests. The app must be easy to search within. Evernote’s search is legendary. I think at the moment that one feature is what is keeping Evernote relevant. Likewise, Todoist search is incredibly fast and the search bar is at the top in every part of Todoist. 

So there you go, Heather. To find the right app you do need to do a little testing. Four things need testing:

The first is how fast can you collect your tasks, ideas and notes? Would your app pass the “changing trains” test? If not, then it won’t work for you. Find an app that you can collect your stuff quickly and easily with the minimum of clicks.

The second is, do you actually like using the app? If you don’t like the way it works or you do not like the design, then you are not going to want to use it. So choose an app that appeals to the way you work and your own aesthetic tastes. We are all different here. 

Thirdly, how fast can you process the things you collected? You want processing your things to be fast. Remember your productivity apps don’t do the work for you, they only tell you what needs doing and how. So the less time you spend inside your apps, the more work you will get done.

And finally, can you easily find what you are looking for when you need to find it? Searching is a crucial element when you are building your own productivity system. You are going to be throwing a lot of stuff in these apps and if you are not able to find what you put in there, the app fails. So check out the search function. It will be important. 

So those are the four tests. And remember, once you have learnt everything you can about these apps, then stick with them for at least a year. You need to give the app time to become part of you and part of your system. If you are constantly switching your apps you will never learn how to user them properly and no app will be good enough for you. Stick with the apps for at least a year and make them work for the way you work. 

I hope that answers your question, Heather. Thank you for sending it in. 

Thank you to all of you too for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then send me an email—carl@carlpullein.com—or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll be very happy to answer your question for you. 

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

 

How to Reduce Your To-do List To a Manageable Level

How to Reduce Your To-do List To a Manageable Level

June 24, 2019

Is your to-do list overwhelming and the cause of a lot of your stress? This week, I answer a question about reducing your to0do list to a more manageable level.

 

Links:

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The Time And Life Mastery Course Version 3

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

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Script

Episode 86

Hello and welcome to episode 86 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week it’s all about getting overwhelming to-do lists down to more manageable levels. It’s having to look at a to-do list that drops off the bottom of the screen that causes so much stress and ultimately makes us not want to look at our daily to-do lists, which is really not what a to-do list is meant to do. 

Before we get into the question and answer, I would just like to thank all of you who have enrolled in the Time And Life Mastery version 3 course. Your support enables me to keep doing what I do and to help many more people become better organised and more productive and I am so grateful to you all. 

And if you are not ready to purchase an online productivity course, that’s okay. I do have a free basic guide to building your own productivity course that you can enrol in. It is a short, forty minute or so course that will give you the basics of creating a productivity system that will work for you. Remember, any system needs to work for you. This course gives you the foundations on which to build your own system and to help you become better organised and more productive. 

Details for this free course are in the show notes.

This week’s question comes from Claire. Claire asks: Hi Carl. Every time I look at my to-do list I just feel completely overwhelmed and never complete it. Every day I have to move a lot of tasks to another day. Am I doing anything wrong? 

Hi Claire, I'm pretty sure you are not the only one experiencing this. With so much being thrown at us every day from all sorts of places it is very hard to get everything we plan to do each day done. However, there are a few techniques you can use that can help you. 

The first is to get realistic about what you can and cannot do in a day. We often think we can do a lot more than we actually can. 

A few years ago, I did an experiment to find what the optimum number of tasks I could complete each day was—I know, I lead a very exciting life— I monitored my daily task completion for a week and averaged it out. It turned out I averaged twelve tasks per day. That was a bit of a shock. I always thought I was efficient and got a lot more tasks done than that, but there it was, in black and white, so to speak, twelve meaningful tasks per day. 

Now I did not include my routine tasks in that number—you know the little things that just have to be done each day that do not improve your life in any way. Taking the garbage out, walking the dog, doing the washing up etc. 

Having this information was great though. It meant I could plan my days with realism and not optimism. 

You see, our brains have no real concept of time or context when we think about our work. That’s why when we think about a project we would like to complete we sometimes believe we can do it all in one day. The reality is you can’t—not if you want to do the work to a high degree of quality. It is also why a task such as a reply to an email, can often cause anxiety because our brain is telling us it will take hours when in reality it would only take around ten minutes. 

This is why using your calendar to plan out your day is so helpful. Because calendars are organised by time slot you can allocate those slots to the work you have to do. It gives you a realistic perspective on how much time you have available to do your work each day. 

Going back to the number of tasks you complete each day, if you do the same experiment, then average out the number of tasks you complete per day you will find your optimum daily number of tasks you can complete. I would then suggest you reduce that number by two. 

For me, that got me to ten tasks per day. 

Now the beauty of just having ten tasks on your main daily to-do list is it never looks overwhelming. It’s manageable and is based on the reality of the number of tasks I can complete each day. There is no point in me fighting this. Sure, I would love to get more tasks completed per day, but the reality is I cannot. 

Instead what I had to do was become better at prioritising my day—which, when you think about it, is no bad thing—It forces me to decide what tasks are important. The tasks that will move my life and projects forward, and what tasks are what I like to describe as vanity tasks—tasks that feel good to check off, but do not really move anything forward. Things like: clean up my desk, reorganise my notes and clean up my to-do list.

When you develop your skill at prioritising you begin to get much better at moving the right things forward. What I also found was that projects that were not moving forward consistently began moving towards completion much faster. There was a lot of wins in this small, but significant change or approach.

As for your routines, a lot of these don't need to be on your to-do list at all because there are some natural triggers. A natural trigger is something that naturally reminds you to do something. You know when to take the garbage out because the trash can is full. You know when to refuel your car because the fuel warning light will come on and you know to do the laundry because your laundry basket is full. All these are what are called natural triggers. You don't also need a task on your to-do list. 

Look around for these natural triggers. They are your best friend. 

Now for the routine tasks that do need to be on your to-do list, then these can be tagged as routines so you can filter them out. Again, this depends on the app you are using, or if you are a pen and paper person, you could have them listed in your notebook on a separate page and you can go through them one by one to make sure you have done them.

When I add my routines to the ten tasks I have committed to, I find I am completing on average fifteen to twenty tasks per day and I am not having to reschedule many tasks at all. A lot of my routine tasks are optional, but I often find at the end of the day, I only have three or four of these left to complete so I just get them done. 

Another way to help reduce overwhelming lists is to make full use of tags and filters. Now, this depends on what app you are using. If you use OmniFocus, you can create perspectives which allow you to filter out tasks you cannot do or do not want to do right now. Likewise, with Todoist, you can create filters to remove tasks you do not want to see first thing in the morning. 

I filter tasks by the time of day. I use the flags in Todoist for this. Red flags are the objectives that must be completed that day. I limit these to just two per day. I use orange flags for my morning tasks and blue flags for the afternoon. 

For those of you not using Todoist, you can use tags. Just create a tag for AM and a tag for PM and when you plan your day... you do plan your day don't you?— you can add those tags based on where you are going to be that day. This way, when you start the day because you have already decided what you will do in the morning you can just open up the tag, filter or perspective for the right time of day and get started. If you have prioritised your day and limited the number of tasks you commit to for that day, then this list is going to be much smaller and ultimately much more motivating. 

Finally, plan your day the day before. This for me is a no-brainer. When we process our inboxes, we often add dates to tasks that are not really based on the day they really need to be done. We tend to date things wishfully. We date tasks for dates we “wish” to complete them. The problem with this approach is that often we end up with days—towards the end of the week funnily enough—where we have far too many tasks. If you sit down for ten minutes or so at the end of the day, look at your list for tomorrow, check your calendar to make sure you have the time available and make a decision on what tasks you will complete and when you fill always start the day with a rock solid, achievable plan for the day. This is what I call the 2+8 prioritisation technique. Ask yourself what are my two objectives for tomorrow—the tasks I will complete whatever happens and what are the eight other tasks I would like to complete? 

Once you have that done, you can go home, relax and know your day is planned and you have set yourself an achievable amount of work for the day. No more overwhelm no more stress or anxiety. Just that great feeling of knowing you have everything under control. 

Thank you very much, Claire, for your question and thank you to all of you for listening to this episode. If you have a question about productivity, time management or goal planning, then just send me a quick email, carl@carlpullein.com or DM me on Facebook or Twitter. 

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