The Working With… Podcast

How To Stay on The Productivity Wagon Once You Have a System in Place.

October 7, 2019

Do you find you are great a creating a system and then soon find yourself not using it, or falling off the wagon as we say? It happens to us all from time t time and that’s the topic of this week’s question. 


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Episode 103

Hello and welcome to episode 103 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 show you how to maintain your productivity system once you have it up and running and give you a few tips on how not to fall off the productivity wagon once you are on it. 

Now, before we get into this week’s question, for those of you who don’t know, I also have a YouTube channel and a blog where I post a lot of productivity and time management content each week. Over on YouTube, I focus a lot on Todoist, Drafts and Evernote as well as some useful tips and tricks. And my weekly blog dives deep into some of the issues that come up from time to time and how to overcome them.

Details on all these additional resources for you can be found in the show notes. 

And… If you haven’t already taken my FREE beginners guide to productivity, then that is a great place to start with your own system. It will give you the ideas and know-how to creating a system for you built around some very strong principles. Again, you can find all the details for that in the show notes.

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

This week’s question comes from Isaac. Isaac asks: Hi Carl, I am really struggling to find any consistency in using my system. I like my system and it basically works well, but after using it for a week or two I find myself not using it and I start missing things. Is there anything I can do to stop falling off the wagon?  

Great question, Isaac. I find a lot of people struggle with this one. They spend a lot of time creating a fantastic system and then after a few days or weeks stop collecting and organising and then quickly everything stops working. 

Now, there are a few reasons why this might be happening. The most common one is creating an overly complex system. 

You see there’s a lot of fun to be had in developing your own system. For many of us solving problems is fun and building your very own productivity system, choosing the apps to use, setting up the project folders, the collection methods and deciding how we will organise our project support materials is all part of the fun. 

The problems start happening once we have built the system and start to use it in our day to day world. That's when we come up against reality and discover that what we originally thought would work well doesn't work so well and involves a lot of processing time. Now it’s no longer a lot of fun. Now it seems as though all we are doing is fixing problems and cracks which means we are still not as productive to better at using our time as we want to be. 

Another part of becoming better organised and more productive is moving from our old habits and installing new ones. If you are not accustomed to collecting everything —writing everything down or collecting it into a digital to-do list manager and then processing it — it can be hard to get into the habit of spending the necessary ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to do that. 

Likewise, if you are not planning your day before you finish, you are not instilling the right kind of habits you need to maintain your system. 

It’s the installation of these habits that will ensure your system continues to work. 

How long does that take? Well, that depends but a study by the University of London found that to install a new habit takes 66 days. So it is going to take you around two months of consistent practice and self-discipline to take your new system and have it running smoothly and consistently. 

This is where you need to apply your most effort. Developing the right habits to make sure you are maintaining your system. Once the maintenance becomes a habit, then you will find everything works much better and you are much less likely to stop using your system. 

Getting into the habit of collecting and organising every day is the best way to start. If you are not collecting everything, that’s where the first cracks in your system will open.

One of the best things you can do to begin with is to find the quickest way to collect something. Set up your phone so you can collect a task or an event or note in as few button presses as possible. If you use an iPhone set up Siri to collect for you too. The least resistance you have to collect something means you will collect everything. That’s the goal. When you process you can decide if you want to keep it or delete it. 

Now that process will take longer if you keep changing your system or apps. As soon as you change an element in your collection, processing or organisation structure you will have a new habit to develop. If you are changing your apps, you will have another app to learn. 

This is why I always recommend you focus on developing your system and not play around with too many apps. Learning to habitually follow a system is much easier than learning to use a new app. 

When it comes to processing this is where you need your calendar’s help. For me, I schedule 9:30 to 10:00 pm to process every Monday to Thursday. I don’t need to process on a Sunday because I do my weekly review on a Sunday afternoon and on Friday’s and Saturday’s I don’t have too much coming in. I will often do a quick scan of my inboxes to see if there is anything I need to be aware of before my big weekly review on a Sunday, but generally, anything collected on a Friday and Saturday can wait until Sunday. 

I do plan the day on a Friday and Saturday. Planning only takes a few minutes because all it involves in checking my calendar and reviewing my dated tasks for the day. I can do this in less than five minutes and as this is a habit for me it would feel very strange if I went to bed not knowing what I wanted to accomplish tomorrow. 

Give yourself thirty minutes the end of the day to process and plan. Now you can either do this after you get home in the evening or you can do it before you leave your workplace. Both work very well. The advantage of doing it before you leave your workplace is you can leave work behind when you walk out the door at the end of the day. There’s something about finishing your work day by processing your inboxes, planning what you will work on tomorrow when you arrive and then closing down and leaving the office. It clears your mind and allows you to enjoy the evenings without having to worry about anything at work. 

The key to making this work is you schedule it on your calendar. If you are doing it before you finish work, block the last thirty minutes of your day on your calendar. If you are delayed and find yourself stuck in a meeting at the end of the day, don’t use that as an excuse to not do your processing and planning. Just add an extra thirty minutes to your day. You will thank yourself for it later. If you choose to do your processing and planning when you get home in the evening, make sure you set it at a time you will not be disturbed. If you have young kids, for example, wait until they go to bed so you get yourself twenty to thirty minutes of peace and quiet to do it. 

Your processing and planning time needs to become a part of who you are. It is something you just do. When you reach that stage, then you are never likely to fall off the wagon again. It is just something you do like brushing your teeth or taking a shower every day. 

Now if you have just developed a new system, then there are going to be a few issues. Things you thought would work in theory don’t work in practice, or you find collecting or processing is taking too long—which can happen when you are just starting out—then you should re-evaluate your system. The truth is there are always some things that don’t work exactly how you want them to. When you find that, review and adjust. It does not mean you need to start all over again. Often you just need to make a few little adjustments. 

If you find collecting ideas and commitments while working at your computer is cumbersome, then see if you can set up some keyboard shortcuts. Another one you could do is have a Chrome set up where your calendar, notes and to-dos are all conveniently open in tabs. This is a great way to get your information quickly and conveniently. 

If you find yourself forgetting to do something—like planning or processing—set up a repeating to-do task to remind you to do it. Make sure you get the notifications to come up on your phone or computer. 

There are a lot of different ways you can adjust things to make it all work seamlessly and this will be something you will need to do. But it never means you have to tear everything up and start over. All it means is you adjust and move.

So, there you go, Isaac. I hope that has given you some food for thought and will help you develop the right habits. Remember, it’s going to take a while to develop the habits and you will need to make some adjustments. That said, I can promise you if you stick with it and make the necessary little adjustments it will be worth it in the end. 

Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Remember, if you have a question you would like answering all you need to do is email me - or DM on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes. 

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