The Working With… Podcast
What’s Important Here?

What’s Important Here?

April 11, 2022

This week, we’re looking at how to identify your most important thing.

 

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Episode 225 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 225 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein, and I am your host for this show.

I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s a lot of stuff flying around in our lives that demand attention right here. Right now. Messages from WhatsApp, email and social media that need responses. Colleagues, family and friends as well as clients and bosses ask us to ‘help’ them. Homes and cars that need cleaning, bills to pay, accounts to sort out and consolidate and, of course, summer holidays to plan. The list is endless. 

And because this ’stuff’ is non-stop and endless, the truly important things in our lives get pushed aside in favour of what’s urgent that masquerades as important. 

So what can we do about this? Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do that will give us some perspective on things and guide us through the days so that the things that do matter to us, can still take centre stage. 

So, without further ado, let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Frank. Frank asks, Hi Carl, thank you for all the valuable content you publish. You’ve really helped me to get a grip on my life. 

I’ve completed your Areas of Focus Workbook and followed the guidelines. The problem I have is I have so many other things to do for my work and general chores, that I don’t have any time to do the things I want to do for my areas of focus. Is this normal or am I missing something important? 

Hi Frank, thank you for sending in your question. 

Now, it sounds like you are in transition. This is quite common when we have spent a lifetime working for other people’s agendas. It’s hard to take back control because we’ve become conditioned to give up all our time for other people. So, when we take some of that available time away and dedicate it to ourselves, we feel guilty and selfish. The truth is, you are not being selfish at all. 

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy from the airline safety announcements at the beginning of a flight—put your oxygen mask on first before helping small children—and there’s a good reason for this. You are not going to be able to help anyone if you are unconscious. The rule is you make sure you are fine first so you can then help other people. 

This is the same with life. If you are breaking down if your health gives out and you have to spend a prolonged period in hospital. Or if you are stressed out, burnt out and depressed, how helpful are you going to be to those around you? 

If you want to be there for the people that matter in your life, you must take care of your own wellbeing first. 

What does that mean? 

Well, in terms of time it doesn’t actually involve a great deal. Let’s begin with the basics.

In order for you to keep in touch with your wants and needs, you need some time each day to reflect and think. The best time for this is first thing in the morning. Rather than staying in bed until the very last moment, wake yourself up thirty minutes earlier and make those thirty minutes time dedicated to you. 

Make yourself a cup or glass of your favourite morning drink, then find a quiet spot for some time alone. Now, what you do in this time is entirely up to you. For me, I like to spend a little time in my journal and write my thoughts and feelings and review my objectives for the day. The key with these thirty minutes is to spend some time with yourself. Treat it as a time to stop, reflect and think about your needs. 

The act of writing a journal gives you a way to empty your head of things that might be worrying you. Or it might highlight some area of your life you feel is out of balance. 

Now, in your case, Frank, you have already completed your Areas of Focus workbook so you know what each of the eight areas means to you. This gives you a reference point to refer to that will help you to see where things are going well and where things might not be going quite so well. 

By completing the workbook, what you have done is to externalise the things that are important to you. This makes it so much easier to see if everything is going well. 

For instance, health and fitness is quite high up on my list and while my diet and exercise have been very good for a number of years, one area I have neglected is sleep. I haven’t been getting enough and I realised I need to make some changes to my day so I give myself every opportunity to get the required seven and half hours of sleep I need each day. 

This meant reviewing my calendar, adjusting my available coaching times and moving my daily admin time to earlier in the day. 

The funny thing was when I first realised my sleep was not good, I could not see where I would be able to find the time. But writing about it, reflecting and thinking about solutions over a couple of weeks, I soon found a way to accommodate more sleep time into my schedule. 

While it was running around in my mind, it became a huge problem. When I sat down to think about it objectively and look at the resources I had available, I soon found the solution was in my own hands and a few small adjustments to my calendar solved the problem. 

One of the great things about giving yourself some time for yourself is you have an opportunity to look at what is on your mind and to come up with solutions so they are removed from your mind. 

Our brains are incredible things that have evolved to keep us alive over hundreds of thousands of years. And that is where our brains fall down. They are designed to keep us alive and not necessarily evolve and develop us as individuals. This means even the smallest of problems will become amplified until we become stressed out and worse, stuck in a cycle of worry and anxiety. 

By giving yourself thirty (or more) minutes each day for yourself, you can occasionally ask yourself a series of simple questions. Questions like:

  • What work issue/project is most on my mind?
  • What health issues are bothering me?
  • What area of focus feels out of balance? 

Now, most days, there will likely be nothing, but from time to time, there will be something, and this allows you time to externalise the problem (write it down) and to let your intelligent brain consider solutions. 

Now, there are two parts to your brain. There’s the conscious brain—this is where your survival instincts lay. This is the brain responsible for making your stressed, anxious and on edge. Now, this is a good thing because it allows you to stay away from imminent danger. It’s what has kept us human beings alive. It’s the flight to fight part of our brains.

So, running away from your angry boss or upset customer. Or avoiding calling the bank to talk about your unauthorised overdraft is all controlled by your conscious brain. So, is ignoring your expanding waistline, your constant fatigue and the pain in your back that won’t go away. All of these ‘decisions’ are controlled by your conscious brain. 

If you never stop to reflect and think about you, you never engage your more intelligent part of the brain—your subconscious brain. 

Now, I like to think the subconscious brain is where your knowledge and life experience mingle and develop unique solutions to all your problems. The problem is, that you need to give your subconscious brain time to do its stuff. 

Your conscious brain is designed to make quick decisions such as running away from an angry mother bear and avoiding calling that upset client. 

Your subconscious brain is where you will find all the resources you need to solve all your problems. It might not be very helpful if you come face to face with a charging, angry mother bear protecting her cubs, but for most of our everyday problems, it is by far the best part of your brain to engage when you want to bring a sense of calm and control in your life. 

The reality is, that there’s always something on our minds. Something that doesn’t feel right. The question is: what are you going to do about it? 

You can choose to ignore the problem, or you can externalise it and reach into your subconscious mind for the resources that will give you the solution.

Just some of those resources would be:

  • Ask someone who has the knowledge to help you. That could be a doctor, a dietician or a fitness instructor. It could be a friend, a boss or a colleague. 
  • You could read some books or articles or listen to podcasts etc.
  • And of course, you have your own experience. What have you learnt in the past about this particular problem that could help you solve it?

All these resources are in your subconscious mind, but if you do not give yourself some time alone to stop and think, you will never gain access to this amazing resource. 

Over the years, I’ve leant not to be afraid to ask myself what’s bothering me right now and what can I do to get it off my mind? It’s when I go through that process I find that the things that are bothering me are not as bad as I imagine them to be and that a simple fix is often just a small amount of time away. 

On my recent flight back to Korea, I knew I was not going to get any sleep on the overnight bus ride to Dublin Airport, but I reasoned that as I was going to be on an eleven-hour flight from Paris to Seoul, I would have time to get some sleep on the plane. And as I was going to be very tired, I would not have much of a problem getting to sleep. 

What I didn’t bank on was to be sat next to two lovable small boys who once the flight attendant dimmed the lights after our meal, would start fighting and screaming. So much for being able to settle down to a few hours' sleep. 

Initially, my conscious brain reacted. I began to feel anxious and annoyed. But then I stopped. Externalised the problem—I was extremely sleep-deprived and these two boys were making it impossible to sleep. 

Once I pushed the problem to my subconscious brain I calmed down and realised there was still eight hours left of the flight and these boys were not going to be able to carry on fighting and screaming for all those hours. 

And sure enough, after about ninety minutes, they got tired and fell asleep. Cue seat back and sleep. 

Okay, I didn’t get as much sleep as I had hoped for, but by calmly waiting for the boys to get tired, I wasn’t stressed—one way to not be able to sleep—and I got around five hours. Enough to get me through the long flight. 

So there you go Frank. If you’re missing something it’s giving yourself time each day for yourself. To look at the big picture of what’s going on in your life and to externalise (ie write down) any issues or problems you feel you may have. 

Your subconscious brain may not give you the solutions immediately, but if you give it enough time it will. 

Life was never designed to be smooth sailing. It’s a journey, and they will be plenty of rough seas and storms. The ‘secret’, if you can call it that, is to give yourself time to reflect and use your natural resources to calm those seas and break those storms. This is where you will find the important things, and then you can prioritise them and make sure that is where you spend most of your time each day. 

Good luck Frank with your journey and thank you for your question. And thank you to you for listening.

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

 

Why The Backend Work Matters

Why The Backend Work Matters

March 28, 2022

This week, why must we do the so-called backend work if we want to be more productive.

You can subscribe to this podcast on:

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Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website | Linkedin

The Time Blocking Course

The Working With… Weekly Newsletter

The Time And Life Mastery Course

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Learning Centre

Carl’s YouTube Channel

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Episode 224 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 224 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Last week, I wrote about the importance of the backend work and why you need to take a few days off to isolate yourself and really go through the process. That was inspired by a question I was asked a few weeks ago about what the backend work involves and why it’s important. 

This week, that question is the one I will be answering. 

Now before we get into the question and answer, just a heads up that I’ve just released my latest online course. It’s the first of a new series of mini-courses I will be doing this year which takes a single part of time management and productivity and show you, step by step, how you can implement it into your daily life. 

The first one is on time blocking. Possible the most effective way to get control of your time and to make sure you have time for doing the things you want to do. Ultimately, everything we want to do will involve some time, which means we need to have complete control over our time. That’s what this course will teach you to do. 

Full details of this fantastic course are in the show notes and you can sign up for it right there. 

Okay, on with the show and that means 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 Liz. Liz asks: Hi Carl, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about things like areas of focus and north stars, but I’m not sure what they really mean. All I want is a way to get control of the crazy amount of work I have to do. Is there any reason why I should be worrying about these things?

Hi Liz, thank you for your question.

It sounds like what you are asking is why are things like establishing your goals and the important things in your life a necessity. Now the important things in your life come from areas (or roles) that can often be neglected if all we are focused on is finishing our work or hitting deadlines. It’s not healthy to be stressed out and anxious about the work we have to do and to let other, more important, areas of our life go neglected. 

Now, I admit, with my coaching programme, the first thing I need to do with a new client is to get on top of any backlog or outstanding work that is hanging over a client. But if I am to help a person become better organised and more productive in the long-term so they have time for things like their family, relationships, health and fitness and enjoying life, I need to move to establishing what their long-term goals are and what is important to them. 

You see, when you build your life on a foundation of long-term goals and areas of focus, you feel less stressed, more in touch with yourself and fulfilled. It means that these areas and goals become the priority in your life as a whole and work, and the associated workload, is just dealt with. 

It’s when work becomes the central part of our lives that things will ultimately break down. You’ll burn out and you will feel exhausted.

But, more importantly, when you know what your long-term goals and areas of focus are, you give yourself a “why”. Why are you doing what you are doing? 

Most people go into a job and see it as a way to get some money to pay for groceries, mortgages and going out. That’s a very depressing way to see your work. Your work needs to have some meaning, some other reason why you are doing it. 

It could be part of your long-term goal—to become a leader within your organisation, or it could be you want to help people improve their lives. 

In my case, the reason I turn up every day is because I see it as a vehicle to help people. Helping people gives me a huge buzz. It excites me and leaves me feeling energised and fulfilled. That’s my why and I see my work as part of my life’s purpose area of focus. 

Life would be horrible if I was reacting to my to-do list every day. That way my to-do list would fill up with everyone else’s long-term goals and areas of focus and I would find myself being pulled in all sorts of different directions and those directions would not necessarily leave me feeling happy or fulfilled. 

So the backend work is what puts you in control. 

So, what’s involved in the backend work?

Well, the first place to start is to ask yourself what you would like to be doing in ten or twenty years' time? That can be hard to do if you have never thought about it before, but where would you like to be living? What would you like to be doing every day? 

You may feel you are happy where you are today, and that’s fine except that life doesn’t stand still. We get older, societies and cultures change and if we are not changing with them we are falling behind. 

Do nothing to stay fit and healthy today and in ten or twenty years' time you will be struggling to move, you will be wracked with pain and your health will be causing you to spend a large proportion of your time in hospitals. Is that what you want to be doing in ten or twenty years? 

Do nothing to improve your skills, and very soon, the work you are skilled at today will be obsolete or have been replaced by a computer. In the last twenty years, I’ve seen receptionists, specialised camera operators, secretaries and sales admin disappear. All of which have been replaced by new technology. Receptionists have been replaced by automated telephone systems, sales admin by Salesforce, secretaries by email, Teams and Slack and specialised film camera operators replaced by drones

So the area of focus related to your personal development is important if you want to stay relevant in your industry. 

The best way to build a set of long-term goals that inspire you and to learn what is important to you is to step away from your day to day life for a few days and go somewhere outside of your normal environment. 

Book yourself into a country-house hotel or a mountain retreat for a few days and get away from your day to day life. Use these days to really think about what you want and what is important to you. 

Use this time to expand your areas of focus—what would you like to regularly do with your family and your friends. What skills would you like to learn? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn a musical instrument or to play tennis? 

I have a free areas of focus workbook you can download from my website that will guide you through the process of turning these areas of focus into actionable steps you can take every day or week. 

The problem is most people will never go through this process. It’s as if they are scared to discover what they want or afraid of making a mistake. The thing is you will never make a mistake. You can change your plans at any time. That’s the fantastic thing about being alive. We can change our minds. 

Up until I was thirty-five my whole life plan (if you could call it that) was predicated that I lived and worked in the United Kingdom. It never crossed my mind I would end up living and working in South Korea. Well, that’s where I am and that’s where my future plans are focused on. Life is wonderful in the way it throws up opportunities at almost every junction. 

But, it is important to have goals because they give you a direction and a purpose. Without goals, you’ll end up helping everyone else achieve their goals (and not in a positive way). 

That said, the biggest benefit to know what you want and what is important to you is your whole time management and productivity system will be focused on you and your wants. When you are focused and making progress where it matters, you become a leader and an inspiration to everyone around you. And when that happens, you begin to give back to the people that matter to you. It’s a win-win. You take care of yourself and your needs and at the same time, you contribute to everyone around you. 

You will be more positive, more intentional and less stressed. Everything you do will be more meaningful and you will know exactly why you are doing something, even if you don’t find the particular task pleasant. 

And when all that happens, you will be energised and that is a great way to improve your overall productivity. 

So, there you go, Liz. I hope that has answered your question. Now go and book those three or four days off, get yourself checked into a nice quiet hotel and enjoy the process of designing the life you want to live. 

And… Before I finish, this podcast will be taking a break next week. We will be back in two weeks. 

In the meantime, thank you Liz for the question and thank you to you for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

How To Plan Out Projects

How To Plan Out Projects

March 21, 2022

How do you plan out your projects? Not just your professional ones, but your personal ones too. That’s what we will be exploring in this week’s episode. 

 

You can subscribe to this podcast on:

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Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website | Linkedin

 

The Time Blocking Course

The Working With… Weekly Newsletter

The Time And Life Mastery Course

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Learning Centre

Carl’s YouTube Channel

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Episode 223 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 223 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In the world of productivity and time management, we often talk about tasks and projects and how best to organise these. 

There is also the added complication for those of you who are self-employed and have a greater degree of freedom in what you work on. How do you choose your next project? Sure, sometimes that may be obvious, but often it’s not. 

So this week, we’re going to look at how to impose self-assigned deadlines and stick with them and also how to manage projects within the Time Sector System.

Now, before we start, I just want to give you a heads up that I launched a brand new course over the weekend called The Time Blocking Course. This is the first of a series of mini-courses I will be doing over the year that takes a single concept—such as time blocking—and teach you how you can build these valuable productivity skills into your own life. 

Full details of this fantastic course are in the show notes. 

Okay, time to have you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Tom. Tom asks: Hi Carl, I am a music producer and I have several projects on the go although non have deadlines but I’d like to start using some. Do you have any tips on sicking to self-made deadlines and working on multiple projects whilst using the Time Sector system? All of my projects (music or life) don’t really have deadlines but was wondering if you can help?

Hi Tom, thank you for your question. 

One additional question you asked about was project objectives or outcomes. Now, this is one of the most important starting points. As Robbin Sharma says: Projects (or goals) are exciting at the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end. The biggest problem with most projects is never the start or the end, it’s the middle bit. Yes, it’s messy, but it’s also where the hard work is. And it’s boring, difficult and often hell. 

When you have a clear objective or outcome for the project, it gives you the motivation to keep going when things get very difficult. 

The outcome is the vision of what things will look like when you finish the project and it’s that vision that keeps you going when things become boring, hell and difficult. As Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. And to do that you need motivation. 

And of course, a clear objective will tell you when you have finished the project. 

But… There is another part here. Why are you doing the project? Without your why you will lose motivation. It’s the real motivation behind success at any project or goal. Your why could be anything, the important thing is that your why means something to you. For instance, in music, you could have the ultimate goal of winning a Grammy the reason why you are working on this particular project is it will add to your body of music that will get you noticed. 

Now, what about self-imposed deadlines. These can be very difficult to observe because there’s a lack of accountability. There’s no one chasing you or waiting for you to finish the project. This means you can very easily let deadlines slip which does nothing for your focus. 

I am in a similar position to you, Tom I have a number of projects I want to complete this year, but as there are no clients directly involved in these projects the onus is on me to stick to a planned completion schedule.

Now, the way I have found to make this work is to divide the year up in quarters on a chart or in a spreadsheet and set them as columns. If you include a “to be assigned” column that gives you five columns to create. 

Then, to add all your projects to one of the quarter columns. 

Now, that’s the easy bit. The difficult part is creating the right balance. You will not get very far if you put all your projects in the first two quarters. You will have far too many projects. The trick is to understand how many projects you can realistically do each quarter. 

When I began this year, I knew that a realistic goal for me was to complete two big projects each quarter. This was based on experience and although it would stretch me, it would mean I will have to work a project every week, but as long as I was working on one of those two projects each week, I knew I would complete those two projects in the quarter. It would stretch, but not overwhelm me. 

Now, the next part is to decide which projects you will do in each quarter. 

At the time of recording this, we are approaching the end of the first quarter of 2022. And I have just finished my second big project of the quarter. 

If you are dividing up your year by project, and you feel you can manage three projects per quarter, then you have twelve projects you can work on this year. Now, I would round that number down. So instead of twelve, I would make it ten projects for the year. That’s still a large number of projects, but by rounding down the number of projects you give yourself some breathing room in case one or two projects don’t go according to plan. 

And let’s be honest here, life is never a straight line. Things go wrong, sometimes events beyond our control will interfere with our plans. So, build in some breathing room. 

Okay, so now we know how many projects we can work on this year, the next question is what projects will you work on? You may find that projects for the first two quarters will be easy to assign. It becomes more difficult to assign the third and fourth quarters. This is why we have the fifth column: the “to assign” column.

This is really where you start. Write out all the projects you want to accomplish this year. If you don’t know the specifics yet, that’s okay. You can call a project something vague such as “produce album TBC” (TBC standing for To be Confirmed”) It means you have given yourself space to work on an album in say, Q3 or Q4. You can decide what album you will work on later in the year. 

I should point out, that this projects list is not exclusively for your work. You want to put your personal projects on there too. Part of the reason we don’t complete our personal projects is that we do not give them the same weight as our professional projects. The reality is, our personal and professional lives are equal. I would argue that your personal life is more important than your professional life, but we’ll save that argument for another day. 

To complete any project you need time. This means if you want to complete a personal project, you will have to give it some time. Now, most people do not treat personal projects with the same focus as professional projects. It’s as if personal projects are luxuries and we feel guilty about doing them. This, of course, is ridiculous. You should never feel guilty about working on personal projects. 

Let’s imagine you have a personal project to clear out your garage ready for the summer. Okay, you now have the basics required for a project. You know the result—clear out the garage. You also have a time frame—the start of summer. Now all you need to do is work out how long you will need and how you are going to do it. 

Now, apparently, the first official day of summer in the northern hemisphere is the 21st of June. So that’s the day you set for the project deadline. That date comes towards the end of the second quarter, so if I were doing this, that would be a Q2 project. 

That gives approximately ten weeks to work on this project. If I divide that up I could spend two hours each weekend cleaning out the garage and by the end of the ten weeks, I would have spent twenty hours on that project. That should be plenty of time to complete that project. 

Now, in the Time Sector System, all I would need to do now is create a recurring task in my task manager that starts on Saturday 2nd April that says “work on garage clean out” and add that task to my recurring areas of focus (this kind of task relates to my lifestyle area of focus) 

I know as long as I spend two hours (out of a 48 hour weekend) on as many weekends as possible during Q2, I will complete that project. 

Now, there will be some variables here. There will be weekends when you will be away and cannot work on the garage. That’s fine skip that weekend. There could be weekends where instead of working on the garage on a Saturday, you could reschedule it for Sunday, or a day in the week if you have a free day somewhere. 

You can use the same principles for your work-related projects. If producing music is part of your core work—which I guess is from your question, Tom, then this is going to be a little easier. With the Time Sector System, you will already have most of the tasks you need to perform set up in your recurring areas of focus. This is your core work, so having time set aside for doing your core work is vital. If it’s got to be done, you need to have a time assigned for doing it. 

You will also have time blocked out on your calendar for this core work too. 

Each week, for example, I have five hours blocked for writing and three hours for recording videos and this podcast. This is my core work, so it must be done each week. So, it has time assigned for it. 

If the projects you are talking about, Tom, are projects on top of your core work, you will need to decide how much time you want to (or need to) spend on these each week and block the time out on your calendar. I do this with my online courses. I have an afternoon blocked out each week for online coursework. Most of the time it’s just updating websites, or adding the occasional supplemental video. But I do have time set aside for working on these. 

Now, here’s a little secret tip for you. If you have set a deadline to complete a project by 30 May, I would block out the 24th and 25th May for solely working on that project. This would be blocked out now. 

The reason for doing this is two-fold. First, it gives you a 48-hour window to dedicate yourself exclusively to this one project. And secondly, knowing you have these 48 hours, you can make sure you have no meetings or other commitments on those days. It’s much easier to decline a meeting a few weeks in advance than it is a few days before. You can tell everyone in yours here of influence you will not be available on those days well in advance. 

The best way to manage your projects is to first know what you want to accomplish in a given time frame—quarters are usually best, but you can apply this to months if you prefer—then set realistic deadline dates for those projects. 

However, the secret sauce, if you like, is to allocate time each week for working on those projects. It’s knowing you have sufficient time each week for project work, that removes the overwhelm, stress and worry that you will not be able to complete the project. Just doing a little bit each week, will keep the momentum going and ensure that you successfully complete the project on time. 

The truth is it all comes down to time. And that means whatever you want to accomplish, personally and professionally, you need to set aside time for working on it. That is inescapable. No time, no completed project. 

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

 

How To Time Block Efectively

How To Time Block Efectively

March 14, 2022

This week’s question is about time blocking effectively. 

 

You can subscribe to this podcast on:

Podbean | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify | TUNEIN

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website | Linkedin

 

The Working With… Weekly Newsletter

The Time And Life Mastery Course

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Learning Centre

Carl’s YouTube Channel

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Episode 222 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 222 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Have you ever tried time blocking? I suspect many of you have tried; probably with mixed results. 

Now for those of you who don’t know about time blocking, time blocking is where you block out increments of time on your calendar for doing work without being interrupted. It prevents other people from scheduling you in meetings and it gives you a sense that you have enough time to do your work each day. 

Does time blocking work?

Yes. It does work, but it only works if you build flexibility into it. There’s a lot of conflicting advice around time blocking. Possibly the worst piece of advice is to block out every minute of the day for your activities. I’ve never met anyone who has been able to successfully do that. 

There are just far too many things that could go wrong when you micromanage your time in that way. Firstly, meetings rarely start and finish on time, traffic jams can cause you delays and then there are all the potential tech issues. 

Time blocking only works if you first know what you need to do and secondly you build in flexibility. Then you only need to add in a little discipline and your productivity AND time management skyrockets. 

Now, before I hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice, If you don’t know already, I have a YouTube channel that is full of advice, tips and tricks on time management, goal setting and productivity. So, if you are looking for a place to help you improve your time management and so much more, then head over and take a look. I am sure there will be something that will help you. 

Plus, you can get all my YouTube videos, PLUS blog post and this podcast in one convenient place by joining my weekly newsletter. You can join with the link in the show notes.

Okay, let me now hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Ally. Ally asks; Hi Carl, I’ve heard you occasionally talk about time blocking and I think I know what it means. Do you have any tips or tricks for time blocking effectively? 

Hi Ally, thank you for your question. 

You’re right I have spoken about time blocking and for me it is a big part of why I can consistently write blog posts, do this podcast and produce YouTube videos every week while at the same time running a full time coaching and teaching business. 

However, to get the most out of time blocking is does involve a bit more than simply blocking time out each day on your calendar. You need to know that what you are doing during your blocked time is important and moving the right things forward. 

Let me explain. 

I’ve seen advice such as block out time for doing focused work each day. Now on the surface that makes sense. After all, if you dedicate two or three hours a day for doing important work without interruptions, you will get a lot done right? 

Well, yes and no. You see, if you don’t know what you are going to do in those two or three hours before you start, you are going to waste a lot of time trying to decide what to do. If you want your time blocked sessions to be productive, you need to know precisely what you will do before you start. 

And that means doing some forward planning—something most people are terrible at.—I struggle to persuade people to give themselves ten minutes at the end of a day to plan the next. If they also need to plan what to do in a three-hour focused time block as well it’s not going to be likely. 

I should point out that daily and weekly planning is the secret weapon of all highly productive people. These are the people who know what needs to be done and when. They are rarely if ever stressed and you will never find them overwhelmed. It’s impossible to be overwhelmed when you know what you have to do and you know when you will do it. And if a crisis happens, you absorb it like water does with a rock and quickly get back on track. 

Anyway, I digress. 

The first thing you need to know is what is important to you. And that really does mean what is important to you—not your company or your clients. What’s important in your life? 

How important is spending time with your family? Exercise? Taking a walk in nature? Meditation? These all need time. Time is not something you can magically pull out of a hat on demand. If you want to do something you must allocate time for it. If that’s not a law of physics it should be. 

Now, most people operate on an “if I have time” principle. If I have time I will call my parents. If I have time I’ll go for a run this weekend. If I have time I will clear out the garage. 

The problem is the “if I have time” principle does not work. This is why so many garages don’t have any space for the cars they were built for. It’s why almost 60% of the western world are overweight and why so many parents complain they rarely hear from their children these days. 

We never have ‘spare’ time. If you want to do something you have to schedule it. You have to make a commitment to yourself to do it. 

Your garage would get cleared if for the next three Saturdays you scheduled 10 am to 1 pm for garage cleaning and it was blocked in your calendar. You would get control of your health if you scheduled 30 minutes every day for exercise and your parents would be a lot happier if you made 7 pm on a Saturday night the time you call your parents. 

So the first step to time blocking effectively is to schedule time for doing the things you want to do. Start with yourself. That way your work is not going to dominate your life. 

Next, your work. Here we need to ask the question: What is my core work? This is the work you are employed to do. 

Now a salesperson is not employed to spend 80% of their time filling out CRMs and documents for the benefit of lazy sales managers. A Salesperson is employed to sell. So, at least 80% of their time needs to be spent selling or doing work that is likely to result in a sale—follow-ups, calling customers and meeting prospects. 

A salesperson’s core work is to sell. So any activity that leads to a sale, needs to be blocked out on their calendar. 

This applies equally to teachers, designers, architects, real estate agents and doctors. Time spent doing the work you are trained and employed to do needs to be blocked out on your calendar. 

Now, of course, teachers and doctors are likely to have some kind of rota system (a kind of time blocking if you think about it) where they are either teaching or on duty. When I taught at the university, the university gave me my teaching schedule and I entered that into my calendar. 

When it came to marking exam papers, that was time I needed to block out, but the university told me the date they wanted the papers returned, so it was easy for me to find the two or three days I needed to mark and evaluate the papers. 

Whatever work you do, you will have some core duties that are your responsibility, It is these core duties you need to find time blocking for each week. 

Now, a little tip here. If you can fix these time blocks for set times per week you will find your life is a lot easier. For instance, I write one blog post and two newsletters each week. In total, I need around five hours each week to do this, so I block three hours out on a Monday morning called “writing time” and two hours on a Tuesday morning. This ensures that I always have time each week to do my writing. 

Likewise, I need three hours for doing my YouTube videos each week, so I have three hours blocked out on a Friday morning for that. 

These times are fixed and it makes life so much easier. When I begin the week, I know I have time for my writing and video recording. 

Now, I know it might not be possible to fix time like this, but see if you can. It makes planning the week so much easier.

Here’s a tip for you. 

Design your “perfect” week. To do this create a new calendar in your calendar app and call it “Perfect week”. Then from a blank calendar sketch out how you would lie your week to be with all your personal work time blocks. 

You want to include how much sleep you want by putting in you're going to bed and waking up times. Then how long do you want for yourself in the morning for morning routines etc? Make sure you have plenty of blank spaces for the unexpected. 

This gives you a good idea of how your week would look if you had everything you want to do on there and will help you decide if it is possible. Often you might find what you want to do and the time you have available is not realistic and you can make some modifications. 

Time blocking is a very effective way to get control of your time and ensure you get the things you want to do done. But, you need to commit to it and treat your calendar as sacred territory. It’s no good spending time building your “perfect” week and then ignoring your calendar. If you do decide that time blocking, or some form of it, is for you then commit to doing it. This is not something you dabble at. It’s something you commit to. 

I hope that has helped, Ally. Thank you for your question. And before we finish, I have just finished recording a new course on time blocking. Details of this will be on my website in the coming days if it’s not already there. 

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

 

How To Find Your Purpose

How To Find Your Purpose

March 7, 2022

This week’s podcast is about identifying your purpose—possibly the most difficult area of focus to define.

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Links:

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Episode 221 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 221 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

One of the parts of life I talk about is areas of focus and there are eight areas we all share. These are:

Family and relationships.

Lifestyle and life experiences

Career/business

Finances

Self-development

Health and fitness

Spirituality

And life’s purpose

Many of these areas are easy to define and establish what they mean to us. However, most people struggle with their life’s purpose. 

Now, I suspect this is because we think our life’s purpose needs to be something grandiose and world-changing when in reality life’s purpose is nothing more than helping other people and contributing in some way to our society and that can take form in multiple different ways. 

So, this week, I am exploring how you can establish and develop your life purpose so you can work on bringing balance to all eight of these areas. 

Now, before we get to this week’s question, have you joined my free weekly newsletter yet? This is a weekly newsletter that comes out every Friday and brings you all the content I produced that week including my YouTube videos, podcasts and blog post as well what I have been reading and watching from others. 

Additionally, you get a weekly productivity or goal setting tip. It's tremendous value and will give you something more constructive to read and watch over the weekend. 

All you need to do is use the link in the show notes to join. 

Okay, time for me now to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Jamie. Jamie asks: Hi Carl, I’ve recently been working through your Areas Of Focus Workbook and have most of the areas worked out. The one I am struggling with, though, is life’s purpose. I really don’t know what my life purpose is. Could you give me some ideas about what I should be writing here? 

Hi Jamie, thank you for the question and for downloading and working through the workbook. 

Before I begin, I should mention, if you want to get a copy of the Areas of Focus Workbook. You can download it for free from my downloads centre on my website. 

Okay, as I mentioned in the opening, we all have eight areas of focus. We all have them, the only thing is what these areas mean to us will be different and how important they will be. For me, health and fitness is higher up than finances. For others, their self-development could be high up and spirituality low down.

For the most part, these will be easy to define. Family and relationships, for instance, is likely to be the easiest to define and, as Jamie mentions, life’s purpose is very difficult. 

So, what does life’s purpose mean?

Now, this may be different for many of you, but the way I see life’s purpose is in contributing back to society. It’s in giving and helping. 

Now, let me ask you a question; how do you feel when you have helped someone out of a difficult situation? I know I feel great. I get a buzz from helping people. 

When I was in my early twenties, I did not really think about how I felt about it, but now, as I look back through my life I realise the most fulfilling moments in my personal and professional life are those moments when I have helped someone or contributed to a worthwhile cause. 

There is something special about using your skills and knowledge to help someone in need. This is why I don’t really believe anyone should retire. Sure, by all means, leave your job, take some time out for yourself, but if you really want to be happy, you should use the knowledge and skills you developed over your professional life to help your community. You could write about your experiences, help out at a community centre or go to a local college and teach. 

If you have taken care of your financial area of focus, your life will no longer be about earning a living, now your life should be about giving back to society. 

Let me explain using my own life experience. When I was in my twenties I did not really know what I wanted to do. I tried all sorts of jobs, from hotel management to car sales. And while I liked all those jobs, they really were just ways to earn a bit of money so I could go out clubbing with my friends on a weekend. 

I hated Monday mornings and I remember sitting in my living room on a Sunday night dreading going back to work. I lived for the weekends and it was a miserable existence. If you are living your life for the weekends then 70% of your life is going to waste. 

The funny thing is, as I look back now, any additional work given to me was always a pain. I always felt overwhelmed and client problems caused me stress and worry. While I loved law and enjoyed working with the people I worked with, I was not really happy inside. I was still going to work to pay the bills. 

Things changed for me when I took a year out to teach English in Korea. I knew I need to think about my future, I couldn’t bear to feel I was going to spend the rest of my working life living for a salary. 

It was when I began teaching I discovered that helping people was incredible. Life no longer became about me, it became about my students. I was consumed with finding betters ways to build their confidence when speaking English. I stopped hating Sunday evenings—in fact I was often so excited to get back into the classroom I struggled to sleep. 

Now, I found myself still going out with my colleagues and friends on a weekend, but my life during the week was no longer about living for the weekend. I got to live life every day. 

What changed? The biggest change was my professional life was no longer about me. It became about my students. And this is really what your life’s purpose is all about. It’s about using your skills and knowledge to help other people. When you have that shift in mindset, your whole life changes.

The first change you will notice is you no longer worry about the clock. When I worked in an office, I arrived a few minutes before my start time and I left as soon as I could at the end of the day. Now, I have no problem spending a few extra minutes helping a student or client with a problem. 

My relationships have improved too. Now, when I am with my friends and family I am no longer worrying about work and having to go into the office the next day. I am more positive, a better person to be around and when I am with my family and friends and really am with them—instead of my mind still worrying about work. 

When you think about it, working 9 till 5 (or what every time you work) is just a concept from industrialisation. Before we industrialised, we didn’t worry about the clock. We woke up at sunrise, we went out into the fields and did our work, returning when the sun went down. Because our only goal was to provide food for our families through the unproductive winters, life was much harder, but it was also a lot simpler. Spring, summer and autumn were about growing, nurturing and harvesting our crops. Winter was about doing the repairs and preparing for the coming spring. 

We got more rest in the winter because the days were shorter. We worked long hours in the summer when the days were longer. 

We essentially worked with nature. Now we work against nature, and that causes us to feel anxious, stressed and leads to all sorts of dangerous lifestyle diseases. 

So to really understand what our life purpose is, we want to ask ourselves: how can I help and contribute to society? 

From that question, you can look at your profession—how does your work help other people. If you are in sales, you are solving people’s problems by providing them with a tool or service that will solve their problems. If you are in customer service, you provide answers to customers’ problems and, of course, teachers and doctors help people develop themselves and stay healthy. 

When you think about it, your life’s purpose will always be about giving back. Writers bring joy and entertainment into people’s lives. Actors and comedians also. Scientists develop new ways of improving people’s lives and find better and cleaner ways to heat our homes and fuel our cars. 

So, Jamie, think about how you help others. What is it about your work that solves other people’s problems? Change your perspective about your work from one that provides you with an income to one that gives you the opportunity to help people who need your skills and knowledge to solve difficult and stressful problems in their lives. 

Last week, I wrote in my Learning Centre’s Learning Note, that your work needs to change from being just a job to become your mission to help. When you wake up in the morning knowing that what you will do today will help someone, you are going to start the day with a lot more energy and purpose than if you wake up focused on writing reports, responding to emails and attending meetings. 

As I wrote in my learning note:

“Your job is a vehicle that allows you to help people. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to help someone in some way. To solve their problems, help them overcome a difficulty, or give them support when they need it. 

Whether you are an author, a financial advisor, a doctor, or a real estate agent, your job is to help people. When you see your work from that perspective, you will never worry about how much time you spend doing your work. You will be present when with your family, you’ll be happier, less stressed and will be a pleasure to be around. 

Surely, that is better than worrying about how much time you spend doing work? “

I hope that has helped, Jamie, and thank you for your question. 

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

 

’I’m Just Not a Productive kind Of Person’

’I’m Just Not a Productive kind Of Person’

February 28, 2022

This week, we’re entering into the realm of personal identity and how successful and productive people think and I explain why this is important. 

 

You can subscribe to this podcast on:

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 220 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

When you think about it, being better organised and more productive is quite straightforward. Knowing what needs to be done, by when and how doesn’t require a lot of effort or special skills. It just requires application and a little self-discipline. 

But if it is that simple, why do so few people do it? Well, that’s what we will be answering this week and I hope I will be able to give you some tips that will help you not only improve your overall productivity but improve other areas of your life. 

Now, before I hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice, just a reminder if you want to get all the content I produce each week in one place, then subscribe to my weekly newsletter. 

It’s full of useful tips, plus you get a weekly essay with tricks and ideas you can use to improve and optimise your own system. It’s free and it comes out every Friday—perfect for your weekend reading. All you need do is sign up using the link in the show notes.

Okay, time for me now to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Caleb. Caleb asks: Hi Carl, thank you for all the videos you have put out. I have watched most of them. I want to be more organised, but I’ve never been that kind of person. Ever since I was at school I’ve always been messy and I’m always late for appointments and I can never stick to a productivity system (and I’ve tried them all). Am I a hopeless case or is there something I am missing? 

Hi Caleb, thank you for your question. 

I certainly don’t think you are a “hopeless case”. Nobody is. I believe that if one person can be organised and productive, so can anyone else. To me, the interesting thing is why can one person keep everything organised and another person can’t?

One thing, it is not mechanics. There’s nothing difficult about looking at a to-do list and a calendar at the end of a day and deciding what you will do the next day—you don’t need special skills to do that. All you need is ten minutes and everyone can find a spare ten minutes. 

Similarly, there’s nothing difficult about moving files to their rightful folders, processing email or clearing a to-do list’s inbox. You don’t need a special talent or a PhD for any of that. Just a mixture of time and a little discipline. 

The problem most people experience is often in their own identity. Let me explain: 

I see from the way you wrote your question, Caleb, that you use the phrase “I’ve never been that kind of person” and “I’ve always been messy and late for appointments and I can never stick to a productivity system”.

If that is what you believe, Caleb, then that is what will be true… In your mind. This means that if you ever arrived early to an appointment you would feel uncomfortable. You would sense something is wrong. And when that happens, you will self-sabotage yourself and ensure you are late for your next appointment. 

Another thing that will happen is you will not tidy something up or keep your folders organised because you believe that you are not that kind of person. You in effect give yourself permission to not be organised and so you are not. 

Let’s be honest here; we are all born untidy and disorganised. When I was little I never put my toys away, I didn’t make my bed and I never understood why I had to be ready to go to playschool at 8:30 in the morning. No matter how much my mother shouted at me, it just never occurred to me to put my toys away or get ready for playschool. 

Over time, I learned how to put my toys away. I learned that if I did not want to lose things—my favourite toys for instance—it was a good idea to put them in a safe place after I finished playing with them (the amount of times I took my toy tractors Starsky and Hutch car to bed with me is laughable now). 

Putting things away so you can find them again the next day is a learned skill. You learn, if things are where they are supposed to be, it makes your life that little bit easier. 

So, if a child can learn to be tidy, so can an adult. 

It’s also about saying the right things to yourself. In your case, Caleb, it’s going to be about changing your identity. Instead of saying things like “I’m always late for appointments” you need to change that to: “I’m always on time for appointments” and backing that up by taking concrete steps to make sure you will be on time. 

Start with something simple. If you are always late for a specific type of appointment, then make it a commitment to always be on time for that appointment from now on. 

Changing our thinking—our identity—begins by changing our approach to something and deciding that from now on you will take the necessary action. 

We all know exercise is good for us. Yet, very few people consistently exercise. It’s probably the one thing we all know we should be doing, yet it’s the one we are pretty good at coming up with excuses for. Not today, I have too much work to do. It’s raining, I’m not in the mood, I’m tired etc etc.

But what if you told yourself: “I’m the kind of person that exercises every day” and you back that up by having a set of exercises you could do in fifteen to twenty minutes every day? Could you find fifteen to twenty minutes each day? I’m sure you can. 

Just to give you a sample. My go-to exercise when I am tired, busy, not in the mood etc is fifty push-ups, 3 sets of 90-second planks and 3 sets of lower back strengthening exercises. I give myself three or four minutes of basic stretching before I begin, and then I begin. On average these exercises take me around twelve minutes to complete and I finish it off with some squats. 

Doing these exercises every day is so ingrained now, I do them every day even if I have been out for a run or I do additional weights on top of these. 

To me, it would inconceivable not to do them because I am the kind of person who exercises every day. It’s now a part of my identity. 

You can adopt the same approach to your daily planning. If you do want to be better organised, more productive and better with your time management, it all starts the day before. You must plan your day. 

Now, here, the important part of planning is knowing what you will complete the next day. I knew when I woke up this morning that today I was going to prepare this podcast, write my learning note and get my coaching feedback written. Three things. It meant when my morning calls were completed, I opened up my writing app and I began writing. I did not need to look at my task manager or my calendar. 

When I went to bed last night, I knew my morning was clear from 9:00 AM. I also knew I needed to start at 6 AM because my calls began at 7 AM. There was no time wasting when I woke up trying to decide what I needed to do. It was wake up. Make my coffee, drink my lemon water, write my journal, clear my email inbox and prepare for my first call. 

And that’s all it takes to be better organised, productive and good with your time management. Ten to fifteen minutes before you end the day make a decision about what you will do the next day. If you tell yourself that this is what you do. It is who you are, and you never forget that, it soon becomes a habit. 

Now you also say, that “I can never stick to a productivity system”. If you believe that, you’ve failed before you start. Instead of looking to make any productivity system work for you, you will be looking for reasons why this new system won’t work for you.

The interesting thing about productivity systems is they need customising for your needs. I don’t get many phone calls distracting me throughout the day, and I don’t get a lot of messages through my messaging system. I do get a lot of emails, but I have a system in place for managing that. However, someone else may have Slack or Teams open all day and a boss that demands you respond to her email before she hits send. 

You need to develop strategies for dealing with that. But you can develop a strategy within an existing system. Let’s take my approach to email. I process my email in the morning and reply later in the day either between five and six or after dinner between 7 and 8. 

Someone else who works in an environment where quick responses to email is expected may need to spend thirty minutes or so at 11:30 am responding to mail and messages and again at 4:30 pm. You develop a process that works for you. 

Some people can block out two or three hours every day for focused work, others who have meetings every day, may not be able to do that, but instead, perhaps they can find two days a week where they can squeeze a two-hour block for doing focused work. It’s about taking a system, implementing its foundations and philosophy and then modifying it to work for your special set of circumstances. 

My Time Sector System is perfectly modifiable. You can set that system up in pretty much any task manager. You can use tags if you wish, you can create customised folders for projects if you wish (although I don’t recommend you do so), but the key point is all productivity systems will work for you. But they only work if you are committed to making them work. 

Before I finish, I should point out that the one trait you need to make any of this work is self-discipline. You need to take full responsibility for all this. Without a commitment from yourself to make things work, they will not work. Changing you identity from believing you are a disorganised mess to being a highly productive, organised individual begins by believing you are that person already and making a commitment to following through. 

These days this analogy might seem a bit old fashioned, but if a smoker quits smoking and tells everyone how many days they have gone since their last cigarette, you know they are going to fail. In their mind, they are still a smoker. You know they will begin smoking again. But if that same person tells everyone that they are now a non-smoker, they have begun the journey of changing their identity and they are likely to successfully kick that habit. 

I hope that has helped, Caleb. Thank you for your question. And thank you to you too for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

How To Be Motivated Every Day

How To Be Motivated Every Day

February 21, 2022

Podcast 219

This week’s question is about the tyranny of the to-do list. Something I’m confident we’ve all felt at times.

 

You can subscribe to this podcast on:

Podbean | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify | TUNEIN

 

Links:

Email Me | Twitter | Facebook | Website | Linkedin

 

The Working With… Weekly Newsletter

The Time And Life Mastery Course

The FREE Beginners Guide To Building Your Own COD System

Carl Pullein Learning Centre

Carl’s YouTube Channel

Carl Pullein Coaching Programmes

The Working With… Podcast Previous episodes page

 

Episode 219 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 219 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Have you ever felt your to-do list is controlling your life and not allowing you the freedom to get on and do the things you want to do? I think we’ve all felt this before and it can be demoralising. The feeling our to-do list is running our lives and we cannot escape. This week, my goal is to change that and to show you that rather than your to-do list controlling your life, it is you who ultimately is in control. 

But first, if you want a convenient place to receive all the content I produce each week, sign up for my weekly newsletter. It’s full of useful tips, plus you get a weekly essay with tricks and ideas you can use to improve and optimise your own system. 

It’s free and it comes out every Friday—perfect for your weekend reading. All you need do is sign up using the link in the show notes.

Okay, time for me now to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Adam. Adam asks: Hi Carl, I started using Todoist about a year ago when I saw one of your YouTube videos and I loved it. But recently, I feel my life is trapped by all the tasks I have to do each day. It’s becoming difficult to motivate myself to look at my list and I am always rescheduling tasks. How do you keep your list from becoming demotivating?

Hi Adam, thank you for your question. 

I know how you feel. I’ve been through that forest many times and it can be disheartening to feel trapped by becoming better organised. I’ve recently felt it since we moved house and I got a new office and studio. I want to keep my workplace clean and tidy and everything in its place. The trouble is, to maintain that, it feels I am always cleaning and tidying up. 

However, I’ve learned strategies to overcome that. The first is to treat cleaning and tidying as a way to step away from my desk. What I do, is between sessions of sit down work—like preparing this podcast script—I will get up and wipe down the kitchen surfaces, or I might pull out the vacuum cleaner and vacuum the studio. These tasks don’t take very long to do on their own, so they are a great way to keep me moving through the day and consistently done, they keep my office and studio clean and tidy. 

When it comes to your task manager this can be a bit more difficult. Part of the problem most people face is in the enthusiasm for building a productivity system. When we start we enthusiastically put all tasks into our task managers. It does not matter whether they are important or not, we just throw everything in there and we then process these into the system.

Now, when you first start, this is an important part. We need to develop the habit of automatically putting our commitments, event and ideas into our system. If we never develop that habit, we fall at the first hurdle. Not getting stuff into our systems, means we never learn to trust the system we create and if you don’t trust your system, it will never work. 

However, once you are in the habit of dropping all your tasks, commitments and events into your system, you need to become very protective of what actually gets processed into your system. 

I treat my inbox for both notes and tasks as a filter. Nothing moves from there until I have made a considered decision about whether I need to do something or not. I would say, around 60 per cent of what I add to my inbox gets deleted later in the day when I process my inbox because either I have completed the task or I decide I don’t have the time or resources to do the task. 

One thing I can assure you, is if you delete something that later becomes important, you will find out and you can add it back in. It’s better to add less and delete more. You can always add something later if it becomes important, but if an unimportant task gets into your system, it can be very hard to find it and remove it later. Who has time to go through all your tasks cleaning them out? Better to spend a few extra minutes making decisions about tasks before they get into your system. 

However, I should stress, if you are new to using a to-do list, focus on developing the habit of adding everything to your to-do list or notes first. Once it’s automatic to pull out your phone or open your to-do list when something comes up, you are then ready to move towards filtering tasks before they get into your system. 

Although I am pretty good at filtering my tasks and notes, I do still go through both every three months or so and clean them up still. Unimportant things do still get through and into the system. 

Now, on a deeper level, Adam, another reason why to-do lists become overwhelming and uninspiring is because they fill up with other people’s tasks and ideas. 

One thing I will always stress on people is to develop three areas. These are your long-term goals, areas for focus and core work. 

These three parts are where your passion, motivation and focus will come from and should always be your priority. 

To give you an example of this, Dwayne The Rock Johnson will always prioritise his gym and family time over everything else. We might not be aware of it, but part of an actors contract is a period of time where they must promote the film or TV show they have been working on. 

The promotion tours are not just turning up in London or Los Angeles for the premiere—they involve hours spent in interviews with the press, travelling between countries attending premiere parties in those countries and photoshoots. It’s very time consuming and tiring. Yet, Dwayne Johnson will still be in the gym first thing in the morning (even if that means waking up at 3 AM) to do his gym work and spending time with his family via FaceTime if he is not in the same country. 

These activities come from his areas of focus Health and fitness and family and relationships. Your areas of focus will always be a priority. 

It’s interesting to see people who are not achieving success in what they do. They don’t have any core areas of focus—instead, they wait for their boss or customers to tell them what to do and then complain about how little time they have for other things. 

To have time for “other things” you have to make time for them. Dwayne Johnson does. So do all happy, fulfilled, successful people. There is no other way. 

But before you can make time for these, you need to know what they are. I know it’s hard to think about what you want. How and where you want to spend your time. It also takes a long time. It took me over a year to develop a set of long-term goals and areas of focus that motivate and inspire me every day. 

But… If you want to be inspired and motivated every day, then it’s non-negotiable. You must do it. 

If you haven’t already done so, you can download my free areas of focus workbook to help you develop these. 

Now, your long-term goals and core work can be easier to develop. Your core work is simply the work you are employed to do. If you're a salesperson, your core work is selling. This means your daily work tasks need to be promoting sales and avoiding and reducing, the amount of time you spend doing admin. Doing admin is not selling. Same for teaching. A teacher’s core work is teaching. Making sure the majority of your work activities each day are focused on teaching and preparing teaching materials is your core work. Again, student admin is not core work. You want to be minimising the admin. 

Long-term goals do not have to be absolutely clear yet. After all, they are long-term. But you do need to know where you want to go. 

My long-term goal is to help millions of people to become better organised and more productive. I know that by helping people do this, they will live a life with a lot less stress and anxiety and will free up time to spend it doing what they want to do. Every day, I wake up thinking about how I can achieve that. Growing my business, doing these podcasts, writing my blog posts and recording my YouTube videos does this. This means my core work and long-term goals converge. 

Once you know what your long-term goals are what your areas of focus mean to you, the actions and activities you do that develop them become the core of your day. One of your areas of focus is going to be your career and business. Each day you work, it’s likely eight hours of those days will be spent focused on that area of focus. Doing your work better, learning and developing your skills. Making sure that the work you are paid to do is done to your best abilities will form part of your core work and areas of focus related to your career and business. 

I saw a meme the other day where the employee says because they are paid below average wage they do a below-average performance. It’s funny on the surface. But it does miss a point. As Jim Rohn pointed out, you are paid the amount of value you bring to the job. That’s the nature of the market. If you want to be paid more, you need to develop your skills and abilities so that your value increases. 

We can argue about the pros and cons of the employment market, but the point is, you may not have much control over your salary, but you do have absolute control over the development of your skills. When your skills grow, so does the value you bring to your job. 

One of the most motivating sentences I read in a Seth Godin blog was: “If you need a resume you’ve lost”. Meaning, when your skills and abilities rise you get noticed. When you get noticed, you no longer need a resume because people want to hire you. 

If 75 to 80% of your tasks are related to your long-term goals and areas of focus you will never have a problem with motivation. You’ll be waking up excited for the day ahead. Sadly, most people will not reach that. Instead, 75-80% of their tasks will be tasks given to them by other people. If I were waking up each day to spend the majority of my day working on other people’s goals and areas of focus, I’d be pretty unmotivated. 

So, my advice to you, Adam, is to begin by asking yourself what you want. What do you want to be doing in ten and twenty years time? Once you know that, you have a direction for your life. You can then direct your work activities to develop the skills and abilities to get you to where you want to be. When you are given a task, you can look at it through the lens of your long-term goals. By working on a project for your boss, what skills can you learn? How will it improve your abilities? 

I remember when I worked in a law office, I loved dealing with angry clients. I was always afraid of dealing with upset people. I realised I would not go very far in my career if I always ran away from dealing with difficult and upset clients and customers. So I read books on communication, I watched my bosses deal with clients and volunteered to call clients who were not happy. 

I soon developed skills that have been so valuable to me and to the companies I’ve worked for. I know how to calm down angry people now. 

It’s very similar to the answer Warren Buffett gives to the question what was the best investment you ever made? He says; a Dale Carnegie communication course he took at university. Before that course, Warren Buffett was so afraid of speaking in public he was physically sick. So he enrolled in the course and learn the skill (and art) of communication. 

Once you know what you want and where you want to be in the future. Be very clear about what you are employed to do and get very good at doing that work. And make sure your areas of focus are in balance. 

When you make these the core of your daily to-do list, you will no longer fear looking at your list. It will be a place to go and get motivated. 

I hope that helps, Adam, and thank you for the question. 

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

 

Work/Life Balance -V- Work/Life Integration

Work/Life Balance -V- Work/Life Integration

February 14, 2022

This week’s question is about how to balance your work life with your professional life.

 

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Episode 218 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 218 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

I’m sure you heard of Work/Life Balance and how this is the goal for living a balanced life. Well, is it? Does trying to balance your personal and work life really give you a balanced life? 

You see, if you place hard barriers between your personal and professional life you create an unnatural barrier to living life on your terms. If you are up against a tight deadline and you have a very important meeting the next day, what will you be thinking about as you sit on the sofa with your family in the evening? You won’t be thinking about your family. Your mind is going to be on that important meeting that begins in ten hours time. 

But because you have a hard rule that states after 6 PM you do not do work, you are now causing yourself a lot of unnecessary stress. The better thing for you to do is to excuse yourself for the evening, go to a quiet room and prepare for your meeting. You’ll feel a lot better, be much more in tune with your needs and you can make it up to your family the next day by taking them out for dinner somewhere nice. 

A lot of our time management and productivity problems come from trying to box ourselves in when if you give yourself greater freedom, you’d be a lot happier, less stressed and considerably less overwhelmed. 

Now before we get to this week’s question, if you would like to receive all my weekly content, including this podcast as well as my blog posts and YouTube videos in one place, then subscribe to my weekly newsletter. It’s completely free and each week you get a productivity tip plus get to see what I am reading and watching. 

This newsletter is a great productivity and time management resource for your weekend reading. The link to join the newsletter is in the show notes.

Okay, on with the show and that means it’s time for me now to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Anna. Anna asks: hi Carl, what do you think of work/life balance? I’m really struggling with this. I have two teenage boys and a full-time job. I worry that I am not able to spend enough time with my boys. Do you have any tips on having a better work/life balance? 

Hi Anna, thank you for your question. 

There is a lot written about work/life balance and it certainly used to be possible. Back in the day when we worked shifts in a factory where the only action we needed to take was to put widgets on devices, it was easy to leave work behind when we clocked out for the day. We were not coming up with solutions to problems that came up throughout the day. 

But for most of us, we do not work that way anymore. That kind of work has been farmed out to machines and robots. We’ve moved into an age where our physical labours are less in demand and our mental abilities have become the in-demand skill. 

The great thing about using our physical skills and labour is we can turn off at the end of the day. The only thing we need to worry about is where do we need to be tomorrow.

Being employed for our mental skills makes it a lot harder to turn off at the end of the day. You can still be working on a client’s problems while driving home from the office. It’s much harder to turn off at the end of the day. 

We also live in a very connected world. I have clients who live in California and manage teams in Asia and Europe. There’s a seventeen hour time difference between Seoul and San Francisco. How do you do one on one team meetings with that time difference and maintain a work/life balance? 

The solution is in something called work/life integration. Rather than seeing our work and personal life are two entirely different things, we combine the two. 

Now, anyone who runs their own business will likely already be living a work/life integrated life. It’s a necessary part of building a business. As a business owner, you can’t simply turn off at the end of the workday. You will be constantly coming up with ideas, dealing with customers at all times of the day and having to do admin and other such tasks late into the evening. 

So how does work/life integration work? 

Well, the first step is to see your day as a whole rather split into work and home. This means if one of your boys is playing in a school rugby match on a Wednesday afternoon and he wants you to come and watch him, you schedule the match in your calendar like you would schedule a business meeting. 

Now, because you spent three hours watching your son play rugby, you can catch up with your work later that evening say between seven and ten. To your son, it was far more important to him that you were there at his rugby match, rather than skipping the rugby match and sitting down in the evening watching TV with him. 

It’s being there in the moment when it matters that counts, not going through the motions believing that you are doing the right thing every evening. 

Now, I accept not everyone can take a Wednesday afternoon off to watch their kid play sport, but the way we work is shifting towards this more flexible way of working. Knowledge work doesn’t naturally conform to strict timelines anyway. 

If we take the team leader in California, she is going to have to do meetings in the early morning or late at night if she wants to communicate with her whole team anyway. 

So, let’s say our team leader wants a weekly team get together to review current and future projects. She might schedule a meeting at 11 pm for her. That would be 4 pm for her team in Asia and 8 am for her European team. This is one hour per week, where she gets the chance to communicate with her team as a whole. 

She could schedule a later start to her day the next day or another day to compensate for the late time for the meeting. There are endless possibilities to reclaim the time back.

An alternative approach is to split your days. Now, this has worked for me, but it is not for the faint-hearted. I live in the Far East. My clients are either in Europe or North America. My clients are active late at night and early mornings in my time zone. So, all my coaching calls are scheduled for either morning or evening. 

My afternoons are quiet. I rarely get emails and I have no coaching calls. So, I do my errands and exercise in the afternoons. I can take our dog for a walk with my wife and do any shopping that needs doing. 

Now, for most of my working life, I have worked split shifts. I began in the hotel industry and I regularly did the morning and evening shift getting the afternoons off as a break. Then when I came to Korea I taught English for fifteen years where my classes were both early morning and evening classes. So, taking a break in the afternoon somehow feels natural to me. 

The key to work/life integration is to do what needs doing in the moment. If you have a young child that needs your help with his homework in the afternoon, then you stop working and help them with their homework. 

When your children are on half-term break, with a work/life integration approach, you will free up your calendar as much as possible to spend time with them. When they return to school you can make up time on your work projects or do any time-sensitive work in the evenings when your kids are in bed (or playing video games) 

I follow a lot of successful entrepreneurs and read many biographies on tremendously successful people. People like Gary Vaynerchuk and Michael Dell will always be at home for their family dinner in the evenings so they can spend quality time with their families. After dinner and when their kids are in bed, they will do some more work. 

I remember seeing a video on how Casey Neistat manages his day. Now, Casey Neistat is a very successful YouTuber and creator. He’s an incredible storyteller. He’s also a bit of a workaholic. He’s a runner too and running every day is a non-negotiable part of his life. So, he wakes up early, does his run, returns home for breakfast with his family, then goes to the office and spends most of his day there. He will return in the evening to spend time with his wife and child and then at 11 pm he will work on editing his videos until 1 am. 

Now while Casey works a lot, he still gets five to six hours a day of quality time with his family. He is totally present when he is with them. Knowing he has another two-hour block later in the evening allows him the freedom to forget work for the five hours or so he’s with his family. 

People trying a work/life balance approach might be there in person, but they are mentally worrying about all the work that’s piling up because they will not allow themselves a couple of hours to get on top of it. 

There will be times when your work is busy and you need to spend more time on your work life than your personal life. I work weekends and so I try and take Wednesdays off. It doesn’t always happen. If I am putting together a new course or preparing for a seminar, I will use that day for recording or preparation. But on those days I do take off, I will make sure my wife and I do something special. 

This week, we are going to Seoul—about a three-hour drive away—to have dinner with my parents in law and get our dog’s haircut. (My wife only trusts a specific dog hairdresser in Seoul) This means we have six hours of driving time for conversation and I get a few hours for doing errands in the big city. It’s pure family time. 

We will get home around 10 pm and I will go to my office and spend an hour or two doing a little admin, responding to my emails and planning the next day. I’ve still had well over ten hours of quality family time and got my most important work done for that day. 

So, Anna, don’t try and live a work/life balance. You won’t be able to do it and will cause you unnecessary stress. Instead, live a work/life integrated life. This way you will always be there for your boys when they need you and when they don’t, you can return and do some work. The sense of freedom you have when you do this will bring you a lot more happiness. 

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

 

Why I Switched from Getting Things Done

Why I Switched from Getting Things Done

February 7, 2022

This week’s episode is a question that came about because of my recently updated Time Sector System course.

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Episode 217 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 217 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

So, many of you already know that my productivity system is called The Time Sector System. This system is based on managing my work by when I want to do it rather than by project. 

Around three or four years ago, I discovered that when I managed my tasks by project, I was spending too much time organising and reviewing and not enough time doing the work. It was leaving me with a lot of work that needed rescheduling at the end of the day. Not a good place to be when you want to feel you are becoming better at managing your time. Too much rescheduling and you lose confidence in your system. 

That’s when it dawned on me that, really, the most important part of any system is having the time to do the work, not how you organise your files and projects. That was my light-bulb moment. 

Now, I do get a lot of questions about this system. It goes against the grain of many of the more popular systems out there and naturally I get a lot of questions about it. So, I have selected one of those questions to answer this week. 

So. Without further ado. Let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Eric. Eric asks, Carl, You used to write and talk a lot about GTD but I notice you no longer use it. Why is that and what do you use instead? 

Thank you Eric for your question. 

Let’s start by dealing with the elephant in the room. Getting Things Done, a book by David Allen. This is the standard text by which all productivity and time management systems are judged today. There’s nothing wrong with GTD, as it is called. It’s a solid workable system. 

However, there are two issues with GTD that caused me problems. The first is this is a book that was first published in 2001 and its concepts are based on what David Allen taught in companies as a productivity and time management trainer in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Now, I remember working in the early 1990s and in those distant days it did matter where you were and what tools you had with you. If you wanted to respond to your mail, you needed to be in a place where your mail was because, for most people, there was no such thing as email. And even in the late 1990s, when email became more prevalent, you needed to be at a computer set up for your email. 

If you were lucky enough to have a personal email account, you needed to be at home with your “personal computer” in order to reply. For your work email, you needed to be at your office and sitting in front of your work desktop computer. 

So, for a simple task such as responding to your mail, you had to be in a specific physical location (home or office) and be in front of your computer (the tool).

The second issue I was struggling with was how the digital task managers were created. For some reason, task managers were set up by project, not context as it should be in a GTD system. 

For those not familiar with GTD, in GTD your task lists are organised by context. This means you create lists based on a tool, such as a computer, a phone or car. Place, such as your office or home or person, such as your boss, spouse or colleague. 

The idea is you choose what to do based on where you are, with which tool or person. 

Now, when I went digital, I fell into the trap of believing the most effective way to manage my tasks was to organise everything by project and to use tags or labels for my contexts. Big mistake. 

In GTD, a project is defined as anything requiring two or more steps. This meant, theoretically, arranging for my car to go in for a service was a project or even arranging to have my haircut (I did once have hair that needed cutting). So you can imagine how many projects you end up having on your list. 

David Allen mentions that an average person is going to have between seventy and a hundred and fifty open projects. 

That’s a lot of projects for an individual like you and me to manage. 

Now the glue that makes GTD work is the weekly review. This is where you sit down at the end of the week to go through all your projects to make sure everything is up-to-date and current. 

Well, for me, by the time I switched to using the Time Sector System my weekly review was taking almost two hours to complete each week. Yes! Two hours. 

No, I don’t know about you, but giving up two hours of my weekend to review all my projects and get current is not really the best use of my time on a weekend. 

However, let’s not be too hard on GTD. It’s a great system and it does help you get very organised. All your projects are kept in project folders—originally, paper-based project folders you kept in or near your desk, now digital folders you keep on your computer. It is easy to find what you need when you need it—if you are willing to maintain your system and keep it up to date. 

And that’s really the problem with GTD today. Maintaining the system takes a lot of time. Time that could better be served to do the work you are creating lists for. 

If you look at the very basics a productivity system needs; it’s a way to collect all your inputs such as calendar events, tasks and notes. You then need to organise those inputs in a way you can find them when you need them and you need to be maximising time to do the work. 

GTD crosses the first two boxes. It teaches you to build a collection system. When the GTD book was first launched that meant purchasing a physical inbox that you had on or around your desk. And it organises your documents and relevant materials into projects or reference materials that are easy to find.

However, because of the time, it takes to manage those first two parts, you are taking away a lot of time for doing. And if you want to be more productive, you need to maximise your doing time and minimise your organising time. 

That’s why I eventually got to the point where I realised GTD was not working for me. I wanted to free up my organising time so I could focus on doing. 

That led me to analyse what was really important about getting my work done. That was when I realised that the only thing that really mattered about a task was when I was going to do it. After all, it does not matter how important or urgent something is, if there are no hours left in the day it is not going to get done that day. Period.

And, I’m sure you are aware now, contexts have become a lot less important. You can design presentations, do work on a spreadsheet, email and make phone calls from a handheld device you carry with you everywhere you go. You no longer need specific tools to do a lot of the work you need to do. 

I have been told that contexts are a personal choice. You can create contexts around energy levels. For example, if you feel energetic, you can do some of the more difficult work. If you feel tired you can do some of the less strenuous tasks. That true. But I cannot predict when I will feel energetic or when I feel lethargic. I cannot control how I will sleep tonight. For energy level contexts, there are far too many variables outside my control for those to be effective. 

In the end, I realised that all I wanted to know was what tasks were important this week. Which ones did I want to do and which tasks could I do that would move a project or goal forward. 

So, I created a folder structure in my task manager that focused on when I would do something. That means I have: this week, next week, this month and next month folders for tasks I am reasonably certain I want to get done in the next eight weeks or so. And I have a long-term and on hold folder for tasks that I’d like to do sometime, but I am not sure yet when I will do them. 

What this means is when I do my weekly planning, all I need to focus on is when I will do something and more importantly what will I do that week. 

Using this method means instead of spending two hours or so doing a weekly review, my weekly planning sessions last around twenty to thirty minutes. They are a little longer at the end of the month because I am looking at more folders. 

It also makes processing what I collected in my inbox much simpler. I have far fewer decisions to make. Really all I am doing is deciding what something is and when will I do it. I don’t have to worry about what context to add and which project to put it in. 

Now, all my projects notes and resources are kept in my notes app. Tasks that relate to these projects are hyperlinked to the relevant task so all it takes is one click and I am in my project notes. This makes it so much quicker to get down to work. I can quickly see what’s been done and what needs to be done. I also have access to relevant emails, meeting notes and files all in one place—which is not something you can do if you are managing your projects from a task list manager.

The most important thing for me though, is how I spend very little time managing my projects and reference materials and I am spending far more time doing the work that matters. And this has given me much more free time to do things outside of work. The more time I have available for doing the work the more free time I get at the end of the day. 

And, I no longer skip my weekly reviews as it did when I was doing GTD. I’d probably do a proper weekly review once a month. Now, as I know a planning session won’t take longer than thirty minutes, I love doing them. It’s got me a lot more focused on what’s important and I no longer lose anything.

But the most important thing for you to remember is, the best productivity system is the one you design for yourself. I strongly believe that you need to take parts of the many different systems out there and build them into your system. I have elements of Tony Robbins’ RPM (Rapid Planning Method) system, Ivy Lee’s method and the Eisenhower matrix in my system. 

Tony Robbin’ RPM is how I plan out my projects and goals. The Ivy Lee Method is how I prioritise my day when I do my daily planning and the Eisenhower Matrix ensures I am working on the things that reduce the urgent work. 

It’s taken me a long time to develop a system that works seamlessly. It began with the Franklin Planner in the early 90s, through GTD in the naughties and eventually to my own system I call the Time Sector System. 

Always remember, you are a unique individual and what works for one person will not necessarily work for you. Take elements from one and merge them with something else. You will find a system that works best for you and that one will be the one for you. 

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

 

Do This To Be More Productive

Do This To Be More Productive

January 31, 2022

This week’s question is about deciding what to work on and prioritising

 

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Episode 216 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 216 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

We’ve covered prioritising before in this podcast and it is an important part of being more productive and ensuring that what you are working on is meaningful and moves the right things forward. 

However, for those of you who have created a good solid system, you are likely struggling with deciding what to work on. If you are collecting a lot of inputs—tasks, events and ideas—at some point you will have to make a decision about what to do about those collected inputs and, more importantly, when you will do something about them. 

And those decisions can be very difficult. So, that is what we will be exploring in this week’s podcast.

Don’t forget, if you want to receive all the content I produce each week in one convenient place, then subscribe to my weekly newsletter. Not only do you get a summary and link to my weekly blog post, YouTube videos and this podcast, you also get a free productivity or goal-setting lesson each week. 

And best of all… This newsletter is completely free. All you need do is click the link in the show notes enter your details and you’re in. Doesn’t get any simpler than that. 

Okay, on with the show and that means it’s time to hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question:

This week’s question comes from Shelly. Shelly asks: Hi Carl, thank you for all the work you produce each week, I have a question about choosing which tasks to work on. I usually begin the day with around thirty tasks in my to-do list and I never complete them all. I feel guilty about rescheduling a lot of tasks. How do you choose which tasks to work on each day?

Hi Shelly, thank you for your question. 

This is a great question because it touches on a hidden aspect of productivity and time management. 

All productivity and time management systems focus on collecting and organising stuff. Writing everything down and then organising it in a way that means something to us. What often gets forgotten is finding the time to complete these tasks we collect. And, more importantly, deciding which is important and which is not. How do you do that? 

Well, time sensitivity is one way. Due dates and deadlines are great motivators for getting things done. If you have a deadline for something, you are going to be more likely to complete it. This becomes even more important if the deadline was given to your by your boss or someone in authority over you. 

Your life would be easier if you spent a little time each week doing your taxes—organising your receipts and income and expenditure—rather than leaving a year's worth until a few weeks (or days) before the tax assessment deadline. But, hey, when I don’t have to submit my tax information for ten months, why would I spend an hour every weekend pulling together everything I spent and earned this week? There’s no imminent deadline, so there’s no urgency and therefore it’s not a priority. 

So we leave it until a week or two before it’s due and now it’s not an hour, we are talking days if not a whole week doing work on submitting taxes. 

If you want to stop the tyranny of tax assessment time, then do a little each week (or month) to keep it organised. It’s not about making it a priority, it’s about making it something you do regularly. 

A bigger problem you will be facing each day Shelly, is a phenomenon called “over-choice”. Basically, what this means is when we are faced with a lot of options to choose from, we find it very difficult to decide. We become overwhelmed and anxious about whether we are making the right decision or not. 

If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and have one item to do. You would do it. No matter how big or difficult the task was. You would do it. First of all you would be focused and secondly, there’s no decision to make. You are doing that one thing. So you get on and do it. 

But we don’t do that do we? We see how easy it is to add things to our task managers and then, so we don’t forget something, we add a random date to a task that roughly equates to when we think it needs doing. 

Unfortunately, this strategy leads to tasks coming up on our daily lists that don’t actually need to be done that day but clutter up your today’s task list. When you look at that list in the morning, you have far too many decisions to make. 

We try and rationalise that by looking for the urgent tasks—but you often find even that filtering approach leads to too many tasks to complete in one day. We think everything is urgent and the problem there is if everything is urgent which one do you work on first? 

What we end up with is a list that gives us too much choice and then we face the paradox of choice—as Barry Schwartz wrote about in his book by the same name. 

You make have heard of the studies into choice. When we have a limited number of choices of a particular product we are much more likely to buy one than if we are faced with too many choices. I believe the statistics were when faced with a limited choice 80% bought. When faced with a lot of choices, only 3% chose something. 

This is the same for your daily task list. Too many items on that list and you will waste so much time trying to pick something. More often than not you won’t and will stop looking at your to-do list and instead do whatever someone else tells you to do. It’s easier and you delegate choosing to someone else. 

It’s why we procrastinate. We have far too much choice. 

So, if you want your to-do list to become more effective; you must reduce your list of tasks for the day. 

How do you do that?

Well, first look at how you are writing your tasks. Make sure it is very clear what you need to do. I see people writing things like “Paul 353 2458 3579” and expect to know instantly what that task means. It looks like the name Paul and a telephone number. So you may deduce you need to call Paul. But why do you need to call him?

You’d be far better-writing something like: “Call Paul about expected shipment date for Yorkshire Tea”. As soon as you read that you instantly know what you need to do. 

The key to writing your tasks is to make sure there is an action verb in the sentence. If you make it very clear what needs to be done with a task you reduce the number of decisions you need to make. And that is really the secret here. 

Reduce the decisions you need to make. 

And this can be done in another way. Let’s take email. We all get it, some more than others. If you are not staying on top of your email daily, it builds up to a point where you become swamped and overwhelmed. 

There are two parts to managing email. Processing; where you decide what, if anything, needs to be done with an email. And doing email—where you respond or act on the email you have decided needs action from you. 

Now if you are randomly looking at your email throughout the day, you lose focus on what you were working on. You get dragged away from what you decided to do that day and can quite easily spend a lot of time just responding to email. If you set aside some time each day for processing—say thirty minutes before lunch or first thing in the morning and then a set amount of time each for responding to your actionable email, you reduce the decisions you need to make. 

If, for example, you set 4pm to 4;45pm for responding to your actionable email each day, you now no longer have to decide when you will respond. You know you have time for that later in the afternoon. All you need to decide, when an email comes in, is whether or not you need to action it. You’ve simplified your decision making. 

With this method, you no longer need to be sending emails to your task manager. All you need now is a single time block in your calendar that tells you when it’s time to clear your actionable email. 

What about all those follow-ups and calls you need to make? I find these are often the cause of a lot of clutter in a task manager and are likely to be the tasks that get put off again and again. 

Rather than randomly adding these to a task manager, you could group them together as subtasks in a recurring task that tells you to do your calls. Or, if you are in sales and need to follow up with clients regularly to see if they need something, you could put them on a spreadsheet. That way you can record information like when you last called them and any information that would be useful when you do call them. 

All you need do then is have a single task telling you to review your calls list. 

This is the reason why I stress the importance of knowing what your core work is. This is the work you are paid to do, not the voluntary work you have committed yourself to by using the word “yes” too often. 

Once you know what your core work is, you can make sure you block time out on your calendar for doing that core work. Again, once you have done this there’s no decision to make. You look at your calendar and you see what you must do. The decision is already made. 

I write a blog post each week. It’s part of my core work. I have set aside Monday morning, once my early morning calls are complete for writing. It’s non-negotiable. It’s what I do. So now, I don’t have to try and decide when I will write the blog post. I know I will be writing the blog post on Monday morning. The only decision I need to make now is what will I write about? I’ve reduced my decisions by 50%.

The key to building more manageable to-do lists, Shelly, is in reducing your choices. The less you have to choose from, the easier that choice will be to make. 

This can be achieved by making sure you are very clear about what you want to get accomplished each day and the best time to do this is the evening before. 

When you give yourself ten to fifteen minutes before you end the day to make decisions about what you will work on the next day, you no longer have to waste time picking a task. You wake up with a clear set of objectives for the day and you can get started. 

The strange thing is once you start to see that most of our productivity problems are caused by the decisions we have to make each day you start to find ways of reducing those decisions. I am a bit extreme here. A couple of years ago I decided I hated having to think about what to wear on my videos each time. So I decided I would wear a navy blue t-shirt. Since I made that decision I have accumulated about twelve navy blue T-shirts. I have six long-sleeve for the winter and six short-sleeved ones for when the temperature gets warmer. 

I’ve also been eating the same thing for breakfast and dinner each day for around eight years. This means I don’t have to worry about calories because I eat roughly the same amount of calories each day and I don’t have to decide what to eat. I already know that when I have breakfast today I will have Greek yoghurt with blueberries and mixed nuts. For dinner, I will have chicken salad and a bowl of fruit to finish. 

Now, I don’t expect people to follow my lead here. I am not a foodie. So eating the same thing eat day doesn’t worry me. I don’t get bored. And I do have a free day every Saturday where I can eat anything I want. And as for my clothes, I rarely meet people in person these days—certainly not since the pandemic began—so wearing the same kind of clothes each day isn’t an issue for me. 

Finally, I would recommend you build as much structure into your day as possible. Doing the same kind of things at set times each day and week isn’t boring. It prevents procrastination. It reduced the number of decisions you need to make and it keeps your task manager clean and tight. You will find you no longer have to reschedule as many tasks are you are doing now and with consistency, life will become so much easier and less overwhelming. 

I hope that has helped, Shelly. Thank you for your question. And thank you to you too for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

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