Do you have to have a productivity system? Well, that’s this week’s question and finding the right one for you.
Hello and welcome to episode 101 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.
I am frequently asked about my own productivity system and how to set things up the way I set them up. The problem here is that what works for me may not work for you.
They way I work, the way I think and the way I organise my files have been created over many years and are a result of all those things above plus the work I do. You will be different. Your work is different the way you think is different and your goals and objectives in life will be different.
In this week’s episode I answer a question about this and why it causes so many people to give up trying to organise their lives around a few simple systems.
Before we get in to this week’s question I want to say that if any of you are in the Skillshare learning programme, then many of my shorter courses are on Skillshare.
If you are not familiar with Skillshare, Skillshare is a subscription based learning centre where you pay a monthly subscription and have access to thousands of shortish courses. I learnt Adobe Indesign on Skillshare a couple of years ago. It’s fantastic place to learn about so many amazing things from coding, productivity, creativity and photography. It’s well worth a subscription.
And, if you use the link in the show notes you can get yourself 2 months of FREE access to Skillshare’s classes. You could learn a lot in 2 months and by signing up using the link here, you help me too. Now that sounds like an awesome deal.
So, help yourself and help me at the same time and get yourself signed up for Skillshare .
Okay, onto the question, and that means handing you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from James. James asks: Hi Carl, I love this podcast. My question is: all the various productivity experts tell us to follow this system or that system and I find it all confusing. Could you tell me which is the best productivity system to follow so I don’t have to keep experimenting?
Thank you, James, for your question. I completely understand how confusing things can get with so many bits of advice out there. A lot of the advice, and I have been guilty of this myself, pushes people towards a specific way of organising and managing their work. In reality, every one of us are different and what might work for me, and the way I think, is not necessarily going to work for everyone else.
This is one of the reasons why these days I show many different ways to manage Todoist and Evernote on my YouTube channel because there really are a multitude of different ways to manage your time and your work.
That said, there are also some fundamentals that if you skip, no amount of ways you organise your stuff will help. Those fundamentals are:
Collecting everything. If you not collecting your tasks, commitments and appointments into a trusted place then you will rely on your head to remember everything. Which means you won't remember everything. Relying on your head to remember everything is what leads to the feelings of overwhelm and stress. You brain does not know how to manage all those inputs. Are they short-term reminders? Long-term? Your brain does not know how to distinguish between these, so it will remind you to talk to your partner about next years summer holiday while you are on a stage pitching your latest product to four thousand prospective buyers.
Once you have collected everything, how you organise it matters. If you collect everything into just one list, soon that list will become huge and overwhelming to the point where you no longer want to look at it. When that happens the list become meaningless.
If nothing else you need a list for your work stuff and your home stuff. After that, how you organise it is really up to you. You might prefer to organise by your projects, areas of focus or context, tag or label. That’s really up to you.
After that, all you need focus on is doing the work. That’s why COD (Collect, Organise and Do) is just a framework. How you organise things inside that framework is up to you and that is important. The organising part needs to be unique to how you work.
If you are new to getting yourself better organised, experiment for a while. See what works best. From my coaching practice, I have learnt how we organise depends on how our brains are wired for this sort of thing. It’s part of my job, as a coach, to figure out the best way for you. A lot of that can be trial and error.
The good news is it is a lot of fun learning the best way.
I have one client where their to-do list is just a list of tasks and all their planning and task management happens on their calendar. Each day they select a few tasks from their to-do list manager, enter them on their calendar for the next 48 hours and manage everything from there.
Once a task has been allocated a day and time on their calendar, they remove the task from their to-do list manager. It works for them.
And that’s the key point here. “It works for them”.
What works for you?
I like to have my work organised into routines. I work better when I have a fixed schedule. That’s why my blog posts are written every Monday morning, my videos are recorded on a Friday afternoon and I record this podcast on a Sunday afternoon.
If my wife adopted my way of doing my work, she would hate it. My wife is much more impulsive than I am. She prefers to have a list of things to do and will do whatever she is in the mood for on that day. That works for her. That would stress me out.
Another area I find can be different is when we plan our days. Conventional wisdom would suggest planning the next day the evening before, it allows you to go to bed knowing exactly what you will start with the next day. This way you avoid wasting time when your brain is at its freshest trying to decide what to do.
However, for some people that does not work. They understand the concept but try as they might, their discipline and willpower at the end of the day are not there and they skip it. Making the switch to doing it first thing in the morning can fix that, once they switch they have no problem spending ten to twenty minutes planning their day.
This is one of the reasons why when you copy someone else's system you are likely to come up against a lot of problems. The way someone else works, even the type of work they do will always be different from you.
I don't get a lot of interruptions during the day and the work I do each week is reasonably consistent. Others—in the front line of customer service, for example—each day will be different with multiple issues to solve and a lot of interruptions. For someone in that situation using my system would very quickly find everything breaking around them. It just would not work.
In a highly disrupted environment trying to build a consistent schedule for your work would be futile. Instead, you need to develop a system that allows you to quickly access work that needs doing when you have some time available. In this situation, labels, tags or contexts (whatever you want to call them) work much better. So does having access to your files on all your devices. If a file you need is on your computer and not accessible from a tablet or phone, then you are not going to be able to work on that file if you are not at your computer.
Many of my coaching clients find blocking the final hour of their day off for focused, uninterrupted work valuable. What this means is you go and ‘hide’ somewhere where you will not be disturbed and get your focused work done for the day as well as your planning and cleaning up. For some, this means spending an extra hour at work, but the extra time spent on dealing with their backlog means they are much less stressed and don’t take their work home with them. So spending a little more time at work means they have the advantage that when they do get home they are able to spend more quality time with their family.
Alternatively, if you are a morning person, you could go in to work an hour earlier. There will be no customers bothering you at that time so you can catch up with focused work and your backlog. Again, it’s all about managing stress, overwhelm and backlog.
So, the bottom line, James, is you want to create a system that fits your way of working. This is not just for your to-do list manager, but for the way you file your documents and organise your notes. Other people’s way of doing things can give you a few ideas, but it’s you who will have to use your system so you need to be making sure that your system works for your way of thinking and way of working.
Remember the foundations don’t change. You need to be collecting everything that needs collecting and not trusting that your brain will remember. Once collected you should organise what you collected in a way that will show up when you need it to show up in a way that works for you and finally you need to be doing the work that matters when it matters.
I hope that has helped, James and then you for your question.
Thank you to all of you for listening too. Without you and your fantastic questions, this podcast would not exist. Don’t forget, if you want to help me, please sign up for a FREE two-month Skillshare account using the link in the show notes and at the same time help yourself you some amazing learning.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.