In this episode of The 2pt5 innovator podcast my guest is Productivity Coach Carl Pullein. We are talking about the basics of year planning for innovators and creators, about having a mid-termin goal and embedding it in a long term horizon. We are also talking about tools and concepts that help to get things done. As it often is, personal and business is often connected, so Carl is using examples from his own fitness challenges as well.

Carl Pullein Year Planning

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About Carl Pullein

Carl has over 20 years of teaching and coaching experience. He has been practicing time management and productivity for decades and has helped more than 50.000 people over time with coaching, courses and his videos.

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Klaus Reichert: This is The 2pt.5 – Conversations Connecting Innovators. My name is Klaus.  I’m an innovation coach in the southwest of Germany. The goal of this podcast is helping other innovators to grow through meaningful conversations. Today’s guest is productivity coach Carl Pullein. In this episode, Carl and I are talking about an easy, an agile way to do your yearly planning as an innovator. We had also talking about embedding that into a mid term target and a long term vision and using some simple tools to get these things done. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. This is Carl Pullein. 

Klaus: Hello, Carl. Welcome back to the podcast.

Carl Pullein:  Well, thank you very much for inviting me back. And Happy New Year to you.

Klaus:  Happy New Year to you, too. It’s 2021 for everybody who is listening to this show in a later year, we’re in the middle of something really big, something really special nobody has ever experienced before. Only people in the mediaeval times. Carl, we wanted to talk about planning your year for… with a focus on innovators and creators. But before we jump into that, I’d like to talk about your new approach.

Carl:  So My new approach really is to managing time and it’s a system I call the Time Sector System. And it came about because I’ve always in the past… I followed GTD. Actually from 2009 I started following GTD when I moved to the digital format. Prior to that, I was a Franklin Planner user, But the GTD context, for those of you familiar with GTD – Getting Things Done by David Allen, you create lists around context. Context could be places like a place, a person or a tool, so it could be @office, @home, @the hardware store. It could be a tool so it could be @computer, @phone, that sort of thing. Or a person so it could be @wife, @boss, and so on. And those worked absolutely fantastic when the book came out way back in 2001. And because if we needed to do email, we had to be at a computer If we needed to do something related to work, we had to be in our office for the most part. But technology has changed over the last… certainly over the last 10 years and now, basically, what you can do on your cell phone is things that you could only do on a computer 10-20 years ago. So I found context no longer worked for me, so I was creating my test list manager by project, and projects were just becoming overwhelming, and that’s where I found a lot of tasks kind of just went to die, and I would never see them again. And I just had a complete rethink. This is way back in 2019. Now I had a really big think about, well, how is this working? And I realised that, actually, all I needed to know is what needed to happen this week. That’s it. Because I was planning for a week, and all I need is in there is what I… what did I want to get accomplished this week? What… what were the projects? How was I gonna move them forward? How was I going to develop my goals this week? Because I didn’t want to be worrying about next week or next month. That will happen on its own. But… so I just came up with this thing. Well, wait a minute. Let’s try this. Let’s do it. Let’s create folders around this week, next week, this month, next month and then long term. And that’s the centre where it came from. So my new system, now my task manager, does not manage my projects. Task managers are task managers, not project managers. My projects are all managed in my notes. And in a way, I suppose I’ve gone backwards because this is how we used to do it with Franklin Planners. And your projects were at the back of the planner. Your tasks were in the day view, so in your day view you had your task for the day. But the projects themselves were managed in a completely different section. And that’s essentially what I’ve done now. My projects are managed in my notes app and it’s wonderful, cause my notes app is a playground: I can dump images, copies of emails, I can dump YouTube video links, resource materials, PDFs, I can create checklists. You can do anything in a notes app. A lot of the stuff that you cannot do in a task manager. And that’s essentially what the whole Time Sector System is about. It’s… your task manager tells you what task you need to do today, tomorrow, this week, next week, whatever and you’re managing your projects. You’re developing your project. You are adding the… if you like the project support materials, to use the Getting Things Done terminology in a single notes app. It’s just been game changing for me because everything is just speeded up and daily planning takes 5-10 minutes. Weekly planning takes about 20 minutes. You know, before I did this, it was taking about 30 minutes to do a daily plan, it was taking sometimes two hours to do a weekly review and I don’t have time for that. I have much more important things to be doing. [laughter] And so it’s been a real game changer for me and really… it’s just dramatically improved my productivity and what I get done each day.

Klaus:  Yeah, I see what you mean.

Carl:  There was a big overview. 

Klaus:  It was a big overview, because I think it is a very, very simple and straightforward approach, and you really wonder why nobody else has come up with it. And when I saw it, at first I was really blown away and it really helped me a lot to also rethink the way I’m tackling my  projects because it’s not about managing the project or tasks and working with that all the time, it’s about doing things and getting things done in the end.

Carl:  It is, it is. A task is a task. A project is a project. And they are very different things, and…

Klaus: Yes.

Carl: …so they require a different type of focus and if you’re trying to do it all in one place, it just becomes so overwhelming.

Klaus:  Plus, if you have everything in your notes app, you will be able to use that at a later time. It’s not lost. It’s retrievable via search today. So much knowledge connected to that.

Carl:  So if I’m doing… I’m going to, like… my wife and I have this… [laughter] This is a post pandemic plan. But what we really want to do is we have this crazy idea of buying a new old Landrover Defender, Discovery or Range Rover in northern France and then driving it down to the Southern Point of Italy, going via Switzerland and then selling the car again. So we buy a used one and then we drive it down to the… I just have a really good two week vacation and then sell it again somewhere in Italy or wherever. [Klaus laughs] It is just a crazy idea, but if we do this and then we do something similar in Africa in, say, five or ten years’ time, I’ve got all my reference notes in one place because I won’t delete that project from my notes app. But if I manage that in my task manager, as soon as I check off a task, it disappears, it goes to archive, and after a while it just… is gone, forever. But I have all my notes, all my resource materials. I can save in an archive that’s not going to get deleted. And so, if we decide to do a drive across China or a drive across Africa, which is one of my goals, I’d love to drive across Africa. It’s like the old Paris-Dakar rally kind of thing from the seventies and eighties, How I’d love to do that! [laughter] I know it’s probably quite dangerous to do these days, but that would be a dream come true. But, you know, I would have all my resource materials that I could just go back and say, “Oh, yeah, we must remember that. And we must remember this” And I could even put screenshots of maps… 

Klaus:  Yeah,

Carl:  …like you know, there’s just so many things that I could not do that in a task monitor.

Klaus:  For the Africa trip, you would need the Porsche 959.

Carl:  Probably, yeah [laughter]

Klaus: Which is unobtainable so… [laughter] Okay, great. Before we geek out on time management and stuff like that, we should come back to our initial entry: planning your year with the focus on innovators and creators. A new year offers great opportunities for a new start, for the start of things. It’s a good time to do what’s necessary, to do something new. Many people start with weight-loss plans and stuff like that. And as people that want to create something new that work on some ideas, that’s also a good place to start some… this project or whatever it is we’re talking about, an innovator might do. So is it a good time to start?

Carl:  Oh, any time is a good time to start. You just need to make a decision about what you actually want to change. Now, interestingly, one of my goals this year -it’s actually a goal from last year because of.. because I couldn’t move as much, I didn’t get the chance to do it- but one of my goals is to reduce my body fat percentage down to 20%. I’m round about 23-24% now and I want to get it down to 20%. Now, the thing is, I thought, “OK, we’ll start on the first of January.” But then I discovered that I have on Tuesday next week, I’m going in for a colonoscopy, part because I’m on a medical check [laughter] so the hospital said you cannot eat this, you cannot eat that. I thought, well, this is just gonna be a nightmare. I don’t want to be starting a new diet, a new exercise programme when in a few days time, I’m gonna have to go on this weird special diet for the hospital. So I decided, okay, we’ll wait until after I’ve completed the medical checkup. So I’m starting my 2021 diet and exercise plan on the 13th of January, not the 1st of January. So it doesn’t really matter when you start. You just need a date to start. First of January is a great day, of course, it’s the New Year. But if you need an extra couple of weeks to put things in place and to be in the right place, then just wait a few days and then start. So for me, my fitness and diet programme for 2021 begins on Wednesday, the 13th of January. Not Friday, the 1st of January.

Klaus:  Okay, well, I think we have to tell people that you are like an ambitious runner.

Carl:  I love my exercise. I also love my food. [laughter] 

Klaus: [laughter] So you sort of an otherworldly person in a way, right? You’re already very trained, let’s put it that way.

Carl: Yeah, yeah, but it’s like with anything. There’s always adapt… you’re always adapting. You’re always evolving and you’re trying to change and try different things. And obviously, as you get older, your body is changing, so you need to be aware of, like, certain exercises that you probably could and should do in your twenties and thirties, when you get to your forties and fifties are probably not advisable. So, you know, you’re adapting and evolving all the time.

Klaus:  Okay, so the New Year is… no, anytime is a good time to start a new project working on a new business or business idea. I get that. I like the idea of… for a long time, I didn’t really accept that you had to do a planning phase for, let’s say, a year, say, for tax purposes and stuff like that, because it seemed so random in a way. But again, it’s the first of the year, it’s the first day, the first week, the first whatever. It sort of has a special vibe to it. And it’s good to use that energy, in a way, to start something new. And I thought about what is the best time and what is the actual time people use that energy because sometimes I see that people start in August to do some planning for the next year and do some strategy work and sometimes people do that, like, in January for the upcoming year. What do you think is the best way to prepare for a good year?

Carl:  Well, for me all starts in October.

Klaus:  In October. 

Carl: I start brainstorming ideas in October, and I give myself essentially two months to brainstorm ideas. Now, that does not mean that every single day I’m opening up my note and adding new ideas every day. But as soon as October 1st comes it’s, like, it’s a click in my mind: “Okay, it’s planning season” [laughter] And I start thinking about what do I want to change? What…? How do I want my life to go? How are my…? And I start looking at how I’m going against my current existing goals. Because I think one of the problems is most people’s goals are too short term and… or they’re too long term and they don’t have any milestones in between.

Klaus:  What is in between for you, in terms of time?

Carl:  Well, let’s say, I have a tend… I tend to plan for the decades, so my… it goes like between 2010 and 2020. That decade was all about health, and I transformed my lifestyle and health and fitness. So I spent basically my focus for that decade was on getting my health sorted out. So when I started the decade, I didn’t drink every day, but I drank pretty heavily on a weekend like a lot of British people do. I was a smoker as well, back in 2010, and I was probably… I think I was about 13 kilogrammes heavier than I am today. So I realised that I couldn’t go on living my life like that. It was great; I would never complain about it. But long term it’s not a sustainable lifestyle. So I decided, okay, the decade was about health. So this decade that we’re in now, 2020-2030 is about… I describe it as wealth. So health was the previous decade, now it’s about wealth. So what I want to do now is to come… to consolidate my position so that in 10 years time I don’t have to worry about retirement. So that’s my goal. So the problem is, if I used today’s numbers… so if I say I need a million dollars (let’s use US dollars because it’s the easy one) in order to secure my retirement, that might be true in 2020 but in 2029, would it be true then? Would you be able to retire on a million dollars? I probably… you probably won’t be able to. So it’s a difficult one to actually set the number. So at the moment I’ve got myself of, well, I don’t need to worry about the number I need to put in place the system so that I am accumulating a good strong retirement fund. Each year is, I set myself now, a financial target for savings. How much am I going to save this year? So last year was X, this year is X plus, 20% or whatever. And I know that way I will get to my target by 2029. So a lot of goal planning, if you do it for the year, what would you do next? So you need, like, a greater purpose, a bigger picture, You know, so it’s a bit in the middle, that’s going to give you that bigger picture.

Klaus: Okay, so I see it like your long term focus. Your timeframe is 10 years, is your decade, you’re using the decade to sort of frame the whole thing, and short term is the next month, let’s put it that way, and you have some in between planning, which is a year or two. This is what you consider your horizons, let’s put it that way.

Carl: Yes.

Klaus: Okay.

Carl:  So it’s a little bit like, you know, I mean, we’ll get to the business projects, but I run my own business, so I have… I have said that I want my business to have a revenue of $10 million by 2029. Now, I’m nowhere near that today. Still, the gap is huge, but I’ve got nine years to figure out how to close that gap. And that’s the way I tend to… I always think that is the best way to develop your goals. Because if I said “OK, this year, I’m gonna do 10 million in revenue” it’s not gonna happen. It would be a miracle, but I don’t want to base my goals on luck. [laughter] I know there’s a process that will get me to the ultimate goal in 2029.

Klaus: We have to say that you have your own YouTube channel, that you are very present online. Okay, so you have, like, a long term vision that you are working towards. It’s like a 10 year horizon and then you have that short term, um, actions that you used your system for, to accomplish all these things. What is a good way for somebody that wants to, say, start a new product, or an app, or some online service, for example, that does want to do some digital, to get into that thinking of yours?

Carl:  First we have to kind of separate out, or distinguish between, thinking and doing. I have a lot of clients who seemed to have, like PhDs in thinking and they have absolutely… they’ve been thinking about the same idea for like, five or ten years and they still haven’t taken any action, and the words they’re using is “I just have to.” So if you ever find yourself saying “before I do that, I just have to…” you’re in trouble, because just “have to” is not actually taking action. It’s just… it’s the kind of a pre phrase for an excuse, for not taking action. And when I’m doing my coaching calls and I see someone saying, “Hey, I want to do this but I just have to do…”  and I go, “Oh, OK. Okay.” It’s like my ears will prick up. “Here comes an excuse.” And there is a need for thinking and planning, of course there is, but really, you need to start throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. That’s what I found has always worked. In everything I’ve ever done is throw stuff on the wall and find out what sticks. So I’ve got people who’ve been telling me “I’m going to start a blog, I’m going to start a blog,” and they told me this three years ago. They still haven’t written a blog. “Oh, I’m looking for the right platform.” “Oh, I’m looking for the right application to do the writing in.” You know, none of that is important. You know, every computer comes in with a built in writing software. Whether it’s Microsoft Word or Apple Pages. You can write. Start writing. You don’t have to publish anything yet. You can do that research on the sideline. But get writing. If that’s what you want to do, is write a blog, right, you know, start writing. You know, you started a podcast. I’ve got many clients who’ve been talking about starting a podcast for a few years now, and “I just have to find the right microphone” or “I just have to find the right podcast software.” No. Just start recording. You don’t have to publish it, but the moment you get comfortable with a microphone in front of you and you learn how to vary your voice and make it more interesting, that’s taking action. 

Klaus: Mm-hmm.

Carl: And I… So a lot of when you’re starting out a new business is the same thing. You can spend years researching product development ideas, the right kind of applications to use. Just if you want to start an application, start doing the coding now because you can alter the code later. You’re going to be altering it anyway, because you’ll be bug fixing and doing all sorts of things. So just get started. It’s the same with anything. You don’t have to publish immediately, but you do need to get the content or the product in some form. Anything else is just a distraction. 

Klaus: Mm-hmm.

Carl: And I think that’s a key point that people need to realise, is there is a place for thinking, there is a place for planning, but ultimately you have nothing until you start doing something that’s going to result in a blog, you know, some words written on a digital format or on a piece of paper. Or you’ve got some kind of model of the product that you want to make.

Klaus:  Okay, so a great way to turn sort of that vision into a product is starting.

Carl: It is.

Klaus: That’s basically before over-thinking, the best way is to do some starting. But now, maybe you are working together with other people. You need some sort of alignment. It helps to do some planning, also at least to have some milestones that you set yourself on a short term basis, which is, say, a few weeks, only a few months, because it might be difficult to do everything at once. And, for example, if you need to do some coding, some designing, some texting, and stuff like that, that needs to be coordinated.

Carl:  It does. But I remember when I started my YouTube channel, the original idea was to do 20 videos on YouTube. I’ve now done nearly 300 [Klaus laughs] videos on todoist, So the original idea was just to do 20 videos on todoist. This was like four years ago, five years ago. I’ve now done nearly 300 videos on todoist. That was never part of the initial plan. And doing… I think I’ve done nearly 200 videos on Evernote. That was never, even in the original idea, never had an idea to do anything on Evernote. And I’ve also done probably over nearly 200 videos on productivity in general and again, none of that was on my way roadmap when I first started that YouTube channel. That’s why when you do a lot of… too much thinking, too much planning, you’re going to miss the point. Because the marketplace, whatever market you’re in, is changing so fast today that you might come up with the best blueprint in the world ever. But within three months it’s out of date. So this is why, when you get started, you are now moving. You know, I remember when playing rugby. You know, if you were a defender and you’re tackling, if you were stood still, you know. the person running at you with the ball is just gonna easily get round you. But if you’re moving, you can shift, and you can get that person and pull him down very, very quickly. So if once you get started you’ve got momentum, you’re moving, and it’s so much easier to switch direction than it is to switch direction from standing stark. Because when you’re standing, you just get completely lost and overwhelmed. You need to get started and you will find that no matter… I think there’s several quotes of this, but I do like Mike Tyson’s quote: “Everybody has a plan when he steps in the ring” or something, like “everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the nose.”

Klaus: Yeah, right. [laughter] 

Carl: And the reality of whether you’re starting a business, whether you’re starting a blog or anything is until you get started. You know, that blueprint, when you get started, you’re gonna get thrown out of the water. But now, suddenly, you’ve got a realistic chance because you can move, you can adapt, you can change and you can, as the word says, pivot very quickly.

Klaus:  A very agile approach to doing things. But you need that horizon, like your 10-year horizon to work towards, too, because everything else is just walking, running, jumping, leaping or whatever, in all sorts of directions.

Carl:  It is. And you would never get started if you… I mean, that’s it. That’s why people don’t start it because they’ve got too many plans. Just start. You’ll find that it’ll evolve and you will get much quicker adapting to the market.

Klaus:  Okay, so it takes lots of… You need to overturn that momentum to start something that takes some time, commitment, energy and over time you get better. But what is, from your point of view, a good place to start? Is it like when you are at 80% of what you have in mind? Is it at 20%? It’s just some crabby thing you just put out there, just to test it. What is your… What do you think?

Carl:  Well, I think if you look at all the startups that have been around in the last few years, a lot of them have just started with the basic concept and just thrown it out there and the feedback they get, which is one of the huge advantages we have today from what people starting a business, say, in the 1990s, is we can get almost instantaneous feedback today, where we just couldn’t do that in the 1990s. We had to go full on development, produce the product, and then sell the product, and then figure, “Oh, dear, it’s not selling.” But now, you know, you can just throw something out there, you can even throw a concept out onto the Internet, and people are going to start giving you feedback. This is why, if you want the real stuff, just get something out there. Anything. And you’ll start getting in the right kind of feedback so you can alter and move. And I think, is what… isn’t it the LEAN startup approach that they call it now? 

Klaus:  Yes.

Carl: And I think it’s a… whether you’re starting a business or whether you just wanted to start a YouTube channel, a blog or a podcast, same principles apply. Just get something out there. You learn very quickly. And the beauty, as I’ve discovered, is if I go back to my first podcast [laughter] or I go back to my first video, I just want to cry. But then I think, Wow, I’ve come a long way since I started.

Klaus: [laughter] Yeah, that’s very… I think it’s very, very cool that even people that have, like millions and millions of followers on their podcast, they keep their very first video, podcast or whatever, because it sorts of makes you humble in a way, it shows… but it shows also the way that you have covered and I really like that, and it is cringing to listen to my first episode. But it is great to see that I have done it, so I’m really proud of that, also. I’m very much with you here. A start is important, okay, a long-term vision is important, some sort of tool is important. You don’t need to focus on the time, actually, according to you, so it’s… New Year’s resolutions are great. But if it’s not the 1st of January but the 13th of January’s okay, and if your New Year’s resolution is for August 12th, that’s also okay.

Carl:  Well, there is a reason behind that, actually, is that I’m looking at the whole year. So my goal is to get down to, say, body fat percentage 20% by the end of the year. So 13 days at the beginning of the year, 12 days at the beginning of the year is not going to have a significant impact on my overall objective. And that’s a key thing. I think people need to realise that you don’t focus on the process too much because some, particularly in diet and fitness, the early process can be very painful. You focus on the outcome. My outcome is where I’m gonna be on the 31st of December, not where I’m gonna be on the fifth of January, the 12th of January or the 30th of January. That is largely irrelevant, that those initial stages is getting the process and the habits developed, because once you’ve got a process and once you’ve got a habit developed, I know I will achieve my goal at the end of the year. January, February, March, if you like, the first quarter, is really about experimenting to figure out what’s gonna work. So if I don’t lose any weight in January or I don’t drop a percentage point in January or half a percentage point, I’m not going to care, because it just means I need to adapt. I need to change something. I need to do something to make it work. My objective is where I’m gonna be on the 31st of December, not where I’m going to be on the 30th of January or the 28th of February. That’s irrelevant. The objective is where I’m going to be on the 31st of December 2021. That’s what counts. And I think Tony Robbins…or probably Jim Rohn said it best, I think when he said that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade. And that really stuck with me. And now I know. So why am I doing health and fitness? Because in 10 years time, I’ll be 60. And I won’t… I don’t intend to retire, but I don’t want to spend my old age -if you could describe 60 as being old, I don’t think it is, these days- but I don’t want to spend, you know, my, like, twilight years, as we call it, with ill health. I want to still have the energy, the vitality, to be able to climb mountains, to drive across Africa, in an old Land Rover… So it’s gonna break down, because they always do, [laughter] and so I’m gonna be in and out of the car and it’s gonna be an adventure. You know, I want to have that physical health and vitality to be able to do that. That’s why my fitness goal this year is related to the overall vision. If you like the overall purpose, which is I want to have as adventurous and energetic a life as I possibly can.

Klaus:  To do something like that, you need to change something, change a habit or start a habit that takes time, it takes extra time. And that’s oftentimes the problem why people don’t do things because they think they don’t have the time or they say they don’t have the time or they might not have the time. How do you carve out time off a busy schedule to do changes?

Carl: That’s a really good one, actually, because for me that comes down to where your priorities lie. One of the things that… one of the people I really admire is Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. And his mindset about his exercise schedule, for example, is no matter what exercise is what he does, that is who he is. And he will sacrifice sleep, he will sacrifice social time in order to go to the gym. So if he’s got a day on set, where he’s got to be on set at 7 a.m. in the morning and he knows he won’t be finishing until 10 p.m., he’s gonna wake up at 3 a.m. and start exercising at 4 a.m. Because for him his exercise is a must, he will find the time to do it. And now he’s an extreme case, but for me, I have a very, very busy schedule. I have lots of calls, meetings, and I’ve got lots of content to create every day. But I will not sacrifice between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. in the afternoon because that’s my exercise time, even if it’s just going out for a walk. Because I need… for me it’s the break in the day cause I start working about 7 a.m. and I’m finishing at usually 11 p.m. I need that break, so I choose, rather than sitting on the sofa watching TV, my choice is to get some exercising. But we have choices. And we… it’s up to us how we do it. So for me, it’s a priority. That’s where it comes in. So you’re gonna find that time, and it’s got to become a priority. So whether you wake up a bit earlier or whether you delay your dinner time or whether you say “Right. lunch time. I’m going out for 30 minutes. I’m just gonna do some exercise.” You have to pick and choose. But whatever your goals are, if it’s writing a blog post, you’ve got to find that hour to write that post.

Klaus:  You allow your priorities to actually be priorities and not just be something that is on your to-do list on your whiteboard or whatever.

Carl:  Yeah, I mean, I’ve always felt that if it’s important enough, you’ll find the time.

Klaus:  Mm-hmm. And then you can focus on it and don’t start to procrastinate about it.

Carl:  I mean, one of the things that I found was there are times like most people who exercise regularly, they will tell you that you go through troughs and peaks. So there are times when exercise is just so easy and you look forward to it and then there’s days where you “Oh! It’s just…” It’s a real pain, but you have to do it. And whenever I go into a trough, I always say, “Right, it’s time for a 30-day challenge” [Klaus laughs] And 30-day challenges are brilliant because once you get past day seven, you’re not going to go stop. You’re going to keep going no matter what. So even if it’s like writing, you know, you did state that. “Okay. My goal this year is to start a blog.” I would tell somebody, Right, your first 30-day month is April this year. So you’ve got three months in which to do as much planning and thinking and procrastinating as you want. But on April 1st you write your first blog post, April 2nd you write your second, and keep it going for 30 days. At the end of the month, you’ve got 30 blog posts. It doesn’t mean you publish them and it may be that you decide that I’m going to spend an hour every day doing something on my blog. So day 1, you write, day 2 you edit, day 3 you write, day 4 you edit. So, on the odd days you’re writing 1000 words, on the even days your editing, You choose how you do it, but you do that for 30 days, and at the end of the month, you’ve either got 15 well-written blog posts or 30, depends on how you do it, but it means that you’ve done something action-orientated at the… for 30 days. It’s brilliant. 30 day challenges -once you get past day seven, you don’t stop. [Klaus laughs] There’s no way you will stop because you don’t… You know that once you stop, even for one day, you go back to zero.

Klaus:  I like that 30-day challenge idea. You’re probably aware of the NaNoWriMo, that’s a writing challenge, which is, like, in October every year? 

Carl: November, right? 

Klaus: It’s November. It’s Movember. It’s a NaNoWriMo month. It’s a really, really great challenge. It’s start your own, your first novel, or write something with at least 50,000 words in the month of November, and you get a lot of support by local groups, by international groups, via the Internet and everybody’s sort of in that world, in that writing world, is focused on NaNoWriMo, and it’s hundreds of thousands of people working on their first novel or on a piece of whatever they love to to write about.

Carl:  Oh, it’s brilliant. I say, 30-day challenges are just amazing and you get four of them. If you do it by a month, with 30 days, you’ve got four each year and it’s just fantastic. And if I remember, it’s April, June –[laughter] got to try and remember these- I think it’s September, and   it’s… I think it’s Oct… November as well. November. It’s something like that. Those are your four 30-day months. So I don’t waste those opportunities. They’re just brilliant. Day 1 is the 1st of say, 1st of April on the 30th of April it finishes. It’s like, 1st of May is like, “Yes!” It’s such a great feeling.[laughter]

Klaus: [laughter] You have done something and you’re relieved to have it not on your back anymore.

Carl:  And you got those crosses on your calendar. That’s great! [laughter]

Klaus: [laughter] So one month, 30 days. It’s kind of easy to plan and to predict and to sort of move forward because you’re driven, you can see a possible… imagine, envision a possible result. It is easy, sort of, to think of a one-month period, but actually it is impossible to predict the future, in general. So… but we still want to do some at least envisioning of where we want to be in 10 years. So there’s lots of foresight possibilities, there’s lots of methods to work with. And we always have, like, the best case or standard, a normal case and the worst case and stuff like that, that we work with. But nobody had as a very, very worst case, something like Covid. So we had to adapt quickly to something like that. But my question is, why do something like a long term view, your decade, when you even can’t imagine and envision the future?

Carl:  Well, the thing is, you’re not going to be able to predict the exact future. I don’t think anyone can do that. We’re not fortune tellers, but one of the things that I have advised a few of my students recently, here in Korea is, this weekend, go to the Korean blogs, websites and look for professors and business thought leaders, find their predictions for 2021. And because these guys… like for me, I’m in the thick of it. Every single day, I’m writing content based on what I’m seeing in the real world. I don’t really have a lot of time to kind of put my head up and say “where we’re going?” You know, I’m there and like most people are in the thick of it, we don’t have a lot of time to put our heads up and go, “Wait a minute, where’s the world going?” But there are people who do that for a living, that is their job and these… they write blog posts, and in December, January time, they’re writing blog posts and articles, and you can find them. And these are professors and business thought leaders, and even philosophers, who are saying “Right, these are the trends” They are seeing the data that we don’t see. And I hear, for example, there were articles in the newspaper, back in November, about… the newspapers said “A mass exodus out of California.” Because everyone’s working from home now, they don’t have to live in the San Francisco Bay area, pay all the huge rental fee and the Californian tax, which is incredibly high. They can move out to a low-tax state and work from home. But when you talk to Californians they say, “Yeah, it’s not that many people” [laughter] but the media are really bringing that up. But you see, I don’t have accurate data. I don’t know how many people have left California and moved in, but there are people out there whose job is to analyse that data, and they’re writing about it. They’re writing articles so you can find out what’s going on in the world from a bigger perspective and you can see the trends. You know, five years ago, I remember reading an article saying the next big thing in business technology will be video conferencing. This was five years ago. And, say, by 2020, and I think this guy must have been very lucky, by 2020, you know, most business meetings will be done by a video call. Well, he was probably wrong for 4.5 years, but then Covid came along, and now the vast majority of business meetings are done via Microsoft Teams or Zoom. So, you know… and as I was saying to my students this morning, do you really think after two years (because it’s gonna take two years, probably, for this pandemic to disappear completely) do you think after two years, businesses are going to go backwards to 2019? Yeah, I don’t think so. 

Klaus: Yeah. 

Carl: You know, two years is a long time today in terms of technology, technological advancement. Working from home is here to stay. It’s not going to be like you have to work from home. But I can’t see people having to go to an office and be chained to a desk, you know, nine till five. Monday to Friday after this year. It’s just not gonna happen. So those are things that we can predict already. But there are people out there and it doesn’t take a big Google search to find the predictions. And some of them will be true, some of them will be inaccurate. And you can take, you know, your own opinion based on reading a few of these articles. But for me, the big change, I think, coming, just from what I’ve been reading, is the events. So we have all these big conferences around the world: The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (obviously not this year, probably not next year) Is that going to change? How is it going to change? These events are going to be the next thing to have a big change and a lot of it will go online. And Zoom is not suddenly going to sit back, put their feet up on the tape and say, “We’ve done it.” They’re going to continue innovating. We’re going to get more and better, and better tools to do our video calls. There are already psychologists who are looking at how can we make it even more meaningful and interactive. Tony Robbins this year did an amazing thing with his UPW, his Unleash Power Within course. You know, that was where 10 to 20,000 people met up in a big stadium. And suddenly in March, he had to cancel them all. By June he’d built…  he spent $10 million on a huge studio to put it on as a virtual event. And I did the first one, back in July, and it was unbelievable. I’ve done a live event, and I’ve done the virtual event, and it wasn’t quite the same, the energy, but the energy was there. And that just blew me away. I thought, “Wow, if they can do that in the first attempt, where is that going to be in two or three years time?” 

Klaus: Yeah, yeah.

Carl: So I know that is an area that’s going to change in the next three or four years. And you can do this with almost any industry. You can look at where we are today and where the trends are going. And you can read the professors and the business leaders and they will give you a good indication of where things are going.

Klaus:  It is not that difficult to get to at least some basic information about trends. And Google is always your friend. [laughter] As a consultant, I offer, like, a trend monitoring tool concept which helps our business is to do something like that on their own a bit more methodically, so you can use that in an innovation process, And I think it is really important to… in that case, to be opened for errors. Nobody knows the truth of the future. Nobody knows how it’s going to turn out. But… so it’s not an error to do something wrong here or to do a wrong prediction in parentheses, but the error is not looking into it at all. 

Carl:  Okay. Yeah, well, you need an idea. You need an idea of where you’re standing.

Klaus: Right. Okay. Cool. We have talked about some very, very basic basis, concepts of approaching something new. It’s not… according to you, it’s not connected to the new year necessarily, but it might help to start something with the new year. But then it’s also helpful to have some tools that can help to do all these things. I see that you lean a lot towards Apple apps, right, now. Many people have iPhones, iPads and stuff like that. What are your tools and tips that you have that help you for following through and planning things, for knowledge storage, also?

Carl:  For me, it’s still Evernote. I had a problem with the new Evernote when it came out in September/October time. It broke off… the new but the new Evernote broke all my work flows… 

Klaus: Oh, terrible!

Carl: …and it took me… in the end I said, “Right, I need to sit down.” I ended up spending a whole day reorganising it so that my work flows were working again and so… and over the last three or four months to be… you know, credit to Evernote that it has got better and better, and it’s now it’s certainly in a place now that I can use it, just as… actually in many ways, particularly from a UI’s point of view, I actually prefer the new Evernote.

Klaus: Yes, me too. 

Carl: There’s still some back end stuff that needs sorting out, but I’m willing to wait for that. There’s no problem because everything is working. So Evernote is kind of the first App I open up every day because that’s where my project notes are. That’s pretty much where, you know, all that stuff is. And my Task List Manager of choice is todoist and has been for many, many years. I just love the simplicity of it, but it’s also powerful enough in order to take a lot of stuff. And so I’ve been in the past, I’ve had complex applications that have left me feeling overwhelmed and they’ve been productivity… what I would say is procrastinators’ heaven because there’s so many bells and whistles to play with that I spend more time playing with those instead of doing the work, so I needed to get away from that several years ago. So I did. So those are my go-to apps. But as you mentioned, I’m very much in the Apple ecosystem, so all my iCloud storage is in iCloud, all my documents and I use Pages, Numbers and Keynote for word processing and that kind of stuff, so… but that’s it, really. Ulysses, I’d say, is my writing tool. It’s a simple app again, but it just works and… it’s again, the simplicity of it allows me to be able to just get on and write.

Klaus: Yeah. I made a strong challenge for myself to put everything I can into Evernote, so I don’t even write in any other place than Evernote because it is creating some content that I can refer to later on, even if I don’t use it right away. It’s sort of some research material that I can use for future projects, which is lost if I start writing about things in the Ulysses, for example, or in other tools. So… but it’s not the best tool to write creatively all the time, I think. You store basically your knowledge in Evernote, You use that. You used todoist. And what I like about todoist is it’s a perfect tool for your individual tasks, but it has introduced… they have introduced, I think, the Kanban Boards, also a while ago, which basically helps you to visualise what you need to do, and it helps you to cooperate with others, also using todoist, which I think is a really big thing because Trello, for example, doesn’t really help me do things, I think, that’s rather the todoist thing. But it helps me communicate with others a lot. It’s a very good tool for that. So todoist is picking up that Kanban style and sharing a task and stuff like that with others in the team, in a small team. It’s a very good solution for people or for companies that don’t even have a system in place like that, that start with, say, digital tasks and boards and stuff like that. An agile approach, I think. Sometimes it’s very difficult to introduce a big system, but it’s very simple to do something on a personal level in a company.

Carl: Yeah, he can be very difficult. I mean, I’ve worked with a couple of companies where we’ve rolled out todoist for teams, but I find that when you roll it out to a company with, like, 100 or 250 employees, it’s a big, big project. But if you’re doing it to a small team of, like, 5 to 12 people, it actually works very well on very quickly.

Klaus: Carl, do you have, like, a special tip or tool or the way you approach your starting a 30-day challenge?

Carl:  Well, the 30-day challenge for me is you need to make sure you’re planning ahead for it. And also the biggest tip is before you set the start date look through your calendar. Like I said, I have… I got a big medical check-up, my annual check-up coming upon next week. You know, if I was doing a 30-day exercise challenge this month and then suddenly gets to Tuesday next week, and I spend all day in the health clinic being checked out and things stuck down my throat and stuff like that, you know, it’s not gonna happen, So you got to be very clear about your calendar first. So it’s like if you’re gonna do a 30-day challenge in August and you got two-week vacation and you’re looking forward to sitting by the pool, drinking beer and reading books, that’s not a good time to do a 30 day exercise challenge. But it might be a good idea to do a 30-day reading challenge. You know, there’s lots of things you can do in a 30-day challenge. You give up alcohol if you’re a drinker, you can give up sugar. There’s so many things… you can read books, you can, as I said, write something every day for 30 days, write a journal, and… So there’s multiple things you could do in a 30-day challenge. But you do need to make sure that your calendar is not going to throw something up that throws you out. You know, if I was travelling to Europe by aeroplane, you know, from here to, say, the UK, if you include leaving home time, driving to the airport, checking in, catching the flight, the transfer Amsterdam to the UK, it’s… we’re talking 18, 19 hours of travelling. Yeah. Where am I going to do my exercise? Yeah. So you’ve got to be looking at your calendar before you set out on a 30-day challenge and make sure you have… you’ve got 30 days where there isn’t going to be a major disruption in your schedule.

Klaus:  Do you have, like, a checklist? Do you use, like, a checklist to start something like that, that says “Okay, my goal is…”  I mean, you have to say, you have to write down possibly, your goal and… or you need anything else to start like that and to keep you working on it?

Carl:  Yeah. You need to set a minimum, because I did… Last November, I did a 30-day exercise, exercise challenge. 30 days of exercise. Now that was it. 30 days of exercise. So that could be running, it could be circuit training, it could be going to the gym, but I need to set a minimum. So my minimum was 20 minutes’ intentional exercise. So 20 minutes running, or 20 minutes circuit training or, if it was one of those days where I just don’t have time, I have a backup, which is 30 minutes in brisk walk. Because I know that even if it’s 11:30 at night, I can walk down the street for 15 minutes, turn around and walk back again. That’s… that counts. So you need to set those parameters before the month starts. What’s your minimum requirement. Because you are gonna have days when you’re tired. We’re human beings. We’re not machines. So there’s gonna be days when you’re tired, there’s gonna be an emergency that’s going to throw you out. So what’s your minimum? You know, if you’re journaling, like, your minimum might be, “OK, I need to write a minimum of 100 words.” Now, hopefully, you’re writing 500 words or more when you’re journaling. But there are gonna be days when you’re just really not in the mood or you just don’t have time. So what’s the minimum? Set that minimum for you to achieve that check mark and, I would always recommend also, is either using a digital tool, where you can see your progress or, even better, print off a 30 day calendar and stick it on the wall, and every day, when you’ve done your challenge, use a red marker or something and cross it off because seeing it like that… and you get to day 15 and you have not missed a day, you’re not gonna fail. You’re going to keep going.

Klaus:  So using something very, very simple, very basic is helping succeeding in getting to the result. You don’t need fancy tools. It’s at least something basic. A piece of paper. One piece of paper, not 20 pieces of paper. Okay. Cool. Cool. Carl, do you recommend any resources for the things we talked about? Like is there…? We talked about todoist and Evernote for task and project management, knowledge management and stuff like that. We talked about that paper, those single sheets of paper that you might print out and put it on your wall, a big marker and stuff like that, the one sentence of the thing that you want to achieve in your 30-day challenge. We talked about the 30-day challenge. Is there anything… any other resources that you recommend, like courses or something else? Some videos or YouTube channel that you would prefer?

Carl:  Well, if you’re interested in doing the 30-day challenge I would recommend having a look at Matt D’Avella’s 30-day challenge playlist on YouTube. Matt D’Avella is a great filmmaker. He’s done some amazing YouTube channel videos on productivity and minimalism, which is his theme, and he did… I think it was a year ago, two years ago, about a year ago, he set about… I think it’s two years ago now, he set about doing a 30-day challenge every month and he described the process and what he was doing. So that will give you a really good idea about what you could do, some really good ideas for 30-day challenges. And there’s… you know, obviously I’ve got a load of stuff on my YouTube channel on todoist. If anyone’s interested in todoist. I recently, just a few months ago, updated the Beginner’s Guide there, so there’s 10 videos on how to get started with todoist. And for notes apps… that’s a difficult one because there’s an awful lot of new notes apps in the market right now, and I would recommend just having a look around. Francesco D’Alesio’s channel is very good for seeing different, various notes. Absolutely, it’s a pretty good overview of what each note app is trying to do. So… and, of course, there’s Steve Dotto. If you want to learn anything to do with tech, go to Steve Dotto’s channel, dottotech, because Steve has just got this wonderful personality and he explains things in a way that I think most people would understand. 

Klaus: Well, thank you, Carl. I think that is very helpful. I really like the 30-day challenge approach that will combine with that 10-year planning horizon, that gives a lot of the room… that leaves a lot of room. I especially enjoyed that you said that you have to focus on your priorities if you want to get things done, you have to make time, and then you don’t have to spend time on stuff that is not your priority.

Carl:  That’s a lot of it is really understanding where your priorities are and what you really want to accomplish. But remember, this is not… It’s not a sprint. It’s really all about where do you want to be on the 31st of December 2021. In terms of your lifestyle, in terms of your business goals, your creative goals on anything that you want to achieve, set the process up, make sure you’re doing it frequently, use the todoist manager or whatever you want to use to make sure you’re doing 30-day challenges to get you started. But focus on the outcome. Where do you want to be on the 31st of December 2021? Because you’re gonna have good days and you’re gonna have bad days, and as long as you remember that the occasional bad day is not a problem. But if you get to February and say “I’ve really had a bad start to the year I give up.” It means you’re not focusing on where you want to be on the 31st December. You could have a terrible January and February, but you could pick it up on the first of March, and you can still achieve your goal by the 31st of December 2021. That’s what matters, not where you are on the 28th of February.

Klaus:  Thank you, Carl. Have a great 2021.

Carl:  I will! You’re welcome. Thank you very much for having me.

Klaus:  What a great way to start a new year. Recording a new episode for the podcast. That was my conversation with productivity coach, Carl Pullein. I hope this conversation was helpful for you to do your planning, your envisioning of what you’re going to do in 2021 and in this next decade. My name is Klaus. I’m an innovation coach. The podcast is recorded in Baden-Württemberg in the Southwest of Germany. This is The 2pt5 Conversations Connecting Innovators. Have a great year.

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Host of The 2pt5 Innovator Podcast - Innovation Coach in #TheLänd Baden-Württemberg in the Southwest of Germany Website / Youtube / LinkedIn

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