How to Get More Organised and Have an Easier Life

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we get organised! Whatever your role, the need to be organised is obvious, and so we explore this soft skill in-depth.

This week’s show is sponsored by Omnifocus for iOS and GatherContent.


Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we get organized. Whatever your role, the need to be organized is obvious, and so we explore this soft skill in more depth. This week's show is sponsored by Omnifocus for iOS and GatherContent.

Hello, and welcome to the Boagworld Show, a podcast about all aspects of user experience design, digital strategy and working in digital. My name is Paul Boag, and joining me on the show, as always, is Marcus Lillington. Hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Hello, Paul. I like the fact that you were late to the show about being organized.

Paul Boag: I wasn't late. We started to the minute exactly when I said we were going to.

Marcus Lillington: It's so easy to wind you in on that one. My fishing cord caught you.

Paul Boag: Today has been one of those manic days, and I made the mistake it was really cold, wasn't it? So I made the mistake of lighting the fire in my study. And now yeah, if it wasn't for the fact I was doing a podcast, I would be sitting here naked because I'm just dripping, just dripping.

Marcus Lillington: Now I thought you were going to sleep there, Paul, not naked.

Paul Boag: Oh, no.

Marcus Lillington: What a horrible thought. Don't talk to me about heating anyway, mine keeps kicking out because obviously, yes, it has been cold. Put it on. So everything's lovely, fine. And then I'll go around, look at the boiler and it's flashing a light at me. I reset it and it comes on again. Is something wrong?

Paul Boag: Yeah, well, it's this time of year, because everybody turns the heat on for the first time and it turns into a nightmare. I tell you, life's difficult, Marcus, isn't it? It's like you can't win, can you? What was it like three or four episodes ago, we were going oh, it's not a lot of work. I'm having to turn work away. It's horrible. Shouldn't be allowed. It's horrible. I'm very distressed. But it's interesting-

Marcus Lillington: Literally no one cares about that, Paul.

Paul Boag: To be honest, it's really difficult to do, isn't it, to turn away work? I always think. Don't you? No, it's just me?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, the best way to do it is just to try and work it out. Can you push it along a little bit? Because often people say they need it next week, but they mean next year.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But also, the other thing, not all of the work, however, that I'm turning away, I'm turning away because I can't fit it in. Some of it I'm turning away because I can't be arsed.

Marcus Lillington: You really aren't winning any friends. Patty says throw it all away. Yeah. I was the same. Yeah, give it to us, Paul.

Paul Boag: Well, I don't know whether it's the kind of work that I could. I don't know. But it's like, don't you ever get those kind of calls from clients or someone reaches out to you and it just smells wrong for some reason and you think perhaps I'll just walk away from this one. That's what I mean by can't be arsed.

Marcus Lillington: That's fair enough. You're using your long experience and intuition.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I've no idea whether I'm right or not, but you just think it's going to turn into more hassle than it's worth, isn't it? So yeah, but it's amazing what happens when you do that. That sometimes you see this complete turnaround in attitudes. There is something about being hard to get, I don't know. Do you know what I mean?

Marcus Lillington: Going here naked Paul, how to get Paul in your dreams.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I walked into that, fair enough.

Marcus Lillington: But of course, yes, if you say to someone that you can't have that, then instantly they want it.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: That's just humans.

Paul Boag: It's really interesting. Takes a lot of confidence man, I think you need the fact that I've got a kind of you've got savings behind you and you've built up a war chest in the business makes it a bit easier. And also, I think if you've got quite a robust sales pipeline, sales funnel where you know, well, even if it is a bit slower next month, then I can probably scrounge up some work if I need to. It's a weird thing.

Marcus Lillington: Well, yeah, I've said on this show probably many times, I was going to say more than once, but probably many times. If things aren't going well, don't just take anything.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: That applies at any time. It's a lot easier when you've got stuff and you're thinking, can I fit this in? And you're right, if you're thinking hmm, not so sure about this. This feels like free consulting or whatever, then it's much easier to walk away. You should do that anytime.

Paul Boag: Yeah, you really should. Because otherwise, you spend all this time working on low paid substandard work where you could actually be selling yourself for marketing yourself, but that depends. See, not everybody has got a process for doing that kind of stuff, I guess, which is where maybe I'm a bit unique. Anyway, it's been an interesting week is all I'm saying.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, very busy week. As am I, I'm very busy too, but I've got us because I'm prepping for a workshop tomorrow or presentation more. So it's like, just taking over my life.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I know they do, don't they?

Marcus Lillington: It's done now. Well, the presentation's done. It's created.

Paul Boag: Prepared.

Marcus Lillington: I've got to give it tomorrow.

Paul Boag: Yeah, but that's the easy bit. I was thinking it could be inaudible 00:05:41.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, it's not too bad. It's funny. Yes, exactly. It's taking me, I thought I'll get that done in a day.

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: No. Yeah. It's not a huge amount of people. It's about 15, 20 people so that'll be nice.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I bet. Yeah, that's kind of that in between size, isn't it? Of like sorry, not to undermine you or anything, and undermine your confidence, but I always feel a group that size is kind of an awkward size because it's too big to do anything interactive as one big group.

Marcus Lillington: I'm reporting on reviews. I'm telling them what I found.

Paul Boag: Oh, okay. So it's just to stand up and talk.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. But we'll then do some exercises afterwards, if we've got time kind of thing, which will be fine. Yeah, no, but it's all, other than it's like 120 slides, and I'll be kind of like, oh, I can't remember what I was talking about on slide 31. It'll pop up and I'll go-

Paul Boag: 120? I use 120 slides for a full day workshop.

Marcus Lillington: It's maybe not quite that many, but it's a lot. I wanted to say 500, because I was exaggerating to make a point, and then I thought I'll just …

Paul Boag: One word on each slide.

Marcus Lillington: Kind of, and little videos and things, it's like, have a look at this.

Paul Boag: Yes, today we're talking, as you pointed out rudely at the beginning of the show, we're talking about being organized.

Marcus Lillington: It's so funny that I managed to get the joke in about being organized on you beforehand.

Paul Boag: I know, right? Before you managed to get I inevitably come and have a dig at you.

Marcus Lillington: So I win. One nil, end of match.

Paul Boag: Okay, fair enough. I'm happy for once allow you the privilege of getting one over on me.

Marcus Lillington: The privilege, aye?

Paul Boag: Yeah, very rarely happens, Marcus. You got to enjoy it while you can.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag: I'm humoring the old person. Right. So we're talking about being organized.

Marcus Lillington: What did you say?

Paul Boag: Hey, speak up.

Marcus Lillington: I'll shut up. Carry on. What's it about, Paul?

Paul Boag: Yeah, we're talking about being organized today. But actually, no, don't shut up. Because before we get on to that, we've got your thoughts for the day.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, yes. Right. I shall dig in to that. So, right. The title of this week's thought is what do you do with opinionated testers/interviewees? I've actually been mulling this for a little while, and it might even turn into a blog post, you never know. But anyway, start it off.

Paul Boag: No inaudible 00:08:16.

Marcus Lillington: I know sometimes they do, if I really get a bee in my bonnet. I wonder is that just an English saying, bee in my bonnet? I don't know. I can remember going to a higher education conference, five, six, seven years, something like that, that was kicked off by the vice chancellor, the head of the institution giving a keynote speech.

He was maybe my age or early 50s and had that kind of commanding bearing of someone who gets stuff done. I've been in this position loads of times at conferences and it's usually a real treat. You don't get to be the head of a large institution like a Russell Group University without having something about you. So you can certainly give an entertaining presentation to a bunch of web geeks, we thought.

But this time, it was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. He started off by telling us of his first experiences of the internet, back in the early '90s, back when internet had a capital I, and being around in the early days seemed to be a potentially good thing I thought, and that he really knows his stuff and will provide us with all this deep and insightful insights, I guess, that can only be gained over many decades of being around and using the internet. Alas, no.

He was a user through the '90s of old browsers and email clients and had to put up with all the nonsense that went on then. In the early 2000s, he was paying attention to and wanted to improve his online experience. Trouble is, he'd stopped paying attention probably about 2005 let's say. You were probably there, Paul.

Paul Boag: I was. I remember it.

Marcus Lillington: He wrote out a lot of stuff about not making the user scroll and only having three clicks to content, and making sure there were multiple columns of content. He was only considering the desktop experience, and he loathed large banner images, again, because they made him scroll. And he talked a lot about the fold. Yeah, yeah, and he talked about kind of don't waste space with those annoying designer gaps, in a white space, basically. So I'm making some of this up. It's inaudible 00:10:30.

Paul Boag: I don't know. It was bad, but I'm not sure whether you got all the detail.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, but I'm making it more entertaining.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: But anyway, so why has this bad experience, which even I had to say something from the audience, and I never normally do. I leave that to kind of the HG people anyway, so why does this come to mind now? Well, we've had with two different clients, two testers, who've recently come back to us. We've peddled out the same old very much in air quotes, informed answers. And I'm not sure what to do about it. They're saying exactly the same thing. I want all the information on one page.

I don't like all this space and inaudible 00:11:10. Basically, they feel like they know good answers to website usability, but it's all hugely out of date. But they're still genuine concerns for them. So if they're stating them like that, can they be invalid? I don't know. Answers on a postcard, please. That's my thought.

Paul Boag: That's a shit thought for the day. There's no conclusion. There's no advice. It's just, I'm stuck on this problem. Please help me.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Absolutely.

Paul Boag: It's quite a good question mine.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: I think I'll just ignore them. But then I always presume I'm right anyway.

Marcus Lillington: You kind of do but it's like, because it's come back again, and it comes back again. It's kind of like well, we always talk about we need to educate people, but you can't educate everyone all the time. So therefore, you have to deal with someone who hasn't been educated, I think.

Paul Boag: But then the one thing, this is where you kind of begin to reach the limitations of usability testing. Is this usability testing or interviews?

Marcus Lillington: One of each.

Paul Boag: Right. Because I think as soon as people know they're observed, right, and they're being asked their opinions, their behavior changes. They start saying things because they think they should say them.

Marcus Lillington: Absolutely. Totally. This is a case of oh, yes, I've heard about internet problems usability stuff, ding. I'll get back in my mind palace like Sherlock Holmes and find the thing I heard 15 years ago in inaudible 00:12:48.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So I think really, that's where you've got to rely on observational behavior. That's where things like session recorders come in. Are people actually scrolling on the page? If so, how far are they scrolling, that kind of thing. And it is true that people don't scroll very far on a page. We say that we bang on about the fact that oh, the fold doesn't exist, of course, the fold doesn't exist.

There is no point where there's a fold, but it is true that people rarely reach the bottom of a page. Or they skip to the bottom and kind of skip over the middle and all kinds of peculiar behavior. So I don't think it's entirely an invalid piece of feedback, in a way. Do you know what I mean?

Marcus Lillington: Neither do I. It's kind of like ah.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Anyway, it's a talking points, should we say, rather than a-

Paul Boag: Yeah, and it's a good talking point, and it's the right way. I think what I would take away from that is look, well, it's not practical that we're not going to scroll but what it does mean is that the key pieces, the top tasks, key piece information, calls to action need to be as far on the page as possible.

Marcus Lillington: Above the fold.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I didn't use the fold word, but yes as far on the page as possible. And we kind of knew that already, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Although even that's complicated somewhat, because while you dominate on the page and in the right hand column, because people don't reach the right hand column, you're better having it slightly lower on the page. Testing is the only way of knowing.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Anyway, there we go.

Marcus Lillington: There you go. Good thoughts of the day.

Paul Boag: Right. So we're talking about organizational skills, because that's what we're supposed to be talking about today. So let's jump in and start off by looking at why we should improve our organizational skills. I said in the introduction, right, the bit I pre record Marcus, that we should get organized and that it's obvious.

Well, I've not actually thought about that. I'm not actually sure I'm convinced by my own propaganda. That's the second time I've done that this season gone, I'm not sure. We kind of take it for granted that we should be more organized, have better organizational skills. Right, okay, I think-

Marcus Lillington: What are you trying to say, Paul? What are you trying to say?

Paul Boag: I think there's a bit of a semantic difference here, right? There's a difference between, we should all have better organizational skills, and we should all be better organized, right? I do think we should all be better organized. But the question is why, right? Why you be more organized in your life? If it's just to get more shit done, then I actually think it's a missed opportunity, right?

I don't know about you, but as a society, I think we are obsessed with doing as much as possible. It's all about efficiency and productivity, but that I actually disagree with. I would prefer to be lazier. That's why I like to be organized, so that I can be lazier, you know. So I think we don't build enough downtime into our lives to foster things like creativity, and just a better lifestyle value.

So if the only reason you're focusing on improving your organizational skills is to get more done and to be more productive, I think you're going down the wrong route. To be honest, I think also, you're probably massively undermining any motivation you might have for doing it. Because, yeah, I'm going to get more efficient so I can do more things. It's not particularly inspiring, is it really? But if you can be more efficient, so you only need to work four hours a day rather than eight, then that's a lot more appealing, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, nicely put.

Paul Boag: Well, I'd like to think so.

Marcus Lillington: Because I'm not that organized, as you know, Paul.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Well, I kind of am, and I'm not. I play it up for this show.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: But it's always been a case of I'll try, or I'm going to try to organize myself more, and I just get bored of organizing myself. And just go back to where I was.

Paul Boag: Because there's no real benefit to being organized, if all the benefit is that you can do more stuff, but I think if you're doing it so you could do more of the stuff you want to do. Or you could do more creative stuff or have more time to think about things or more time to do nothing. If you want to go play golf or go down the pub, then that's worthwhile.

And actually, I think that's an interesting point here for people managing teams, right? Because team leaders are always trying to encourage their staff to be more efficient and to do more, but then what's their motivation for that? So why would they bother? Anyway, that's somewhat of a tangent. What do you think?

Marcus Lillington: I suppose if a team member is not pulling their weight, maybe you can coach them to be more efficient, realistic that would be a sensible thing to do, maybe.

Paul Boag: Maybe. Yes, I think it is.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, if you're just kind of doing your stuff in your standard kind of expected timescales, then yeah, I take your point very much.

Paul Boag: I mean, it always think back to Carsonified, do you remember them, the company that …

Marcus Lillington: They did a four-day week, didn't they?

Paul Boag: Yeah, they did, I think it was four.

Marcus Lillington: Or four and a half day.

Paul Boag: Or four and a half or something like that. Anyway, they did a shorter week, right. The thing that came across from me, I kept saying, do you really? Do you actually do a four-day week? I was very skeptical about it. What I kept hearing back was, "Well, yeah, we do, because you just have to work smarter." You know, and so you get the same amount done, you get five days worth a week done, but you get it done in the time of four days.

Actually, I found that's pretty much true. If you work more efficiently, then you can do things like that. Of course a lot of us aren't in the position to do that because we work in a full-time job, which means that it's probably more about getting time to do the creative stuff you want to do or having more time to think strategically or whatever else. Right.

So other reasons to get better at your organizational skill is, for me I think, if you're organized, and you're in control, it lowers stress levels. It always has for me. And also it improves the quality of my output because I'm not rushing it. I've got time to consider and think about what I'm doing. So those are big things.

I mean, that said, although I've got very strong organizational skills, doesn't mean I always use them. It's like an artist, you have to know how to paint properly before you can start doing abstract stuff, do you know what I mean? And it's like, if you've got that solid foundation of a set of organizational rules, then you can bank off and do nothing or you can prevaricate over something because you've got the structure you can fall back on when things get a bit tighter.

Marcus Lillington: The lowering stress thing is what's appealing because what I think you mean by that is that you don't have to spend all your time thinking, oh, I must get that done. Oh, and there's that and there's that. You can just go and look at whatever it is you used to organize and go, that's next. That's next and everything's covered. I remember I think it was Tony Blair used to have a person that organized his life so that he could be creative and he didn't ever have to think about what's next. He was always told what was next.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: I get that. But I think that's one of the reasons why I struggle with it. Because I'm not bothered by having to think oh, I've got to do that next, and holding that stuff in my mind.

Paul Boag: And in which case, I don't think that's-

Marcus Lillington: Also, one more point, Paul. I don't trust myself that I'd make sure I've included everything. Which is, yeah, again, it's about you. You've got to be organized to use the organizational stuff.

Paul Boag: Yeah, you do. I think I do get that. You need to have a system that you can utterly trust. If you can't utterly trust it, then all you've done is added a layer of work in getting organized, and then you're not trusting it anyway. So you're just making yourself more stressed.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, what I don't trust is me making sure I've put everything in.

Paul Boag: Yeah. You've got to go with your character as well. I mean, you don't get stressed by holding that stuff in your head. So what's the point? You just got to kind of be what you are. So yes, I found it … Actually Clare has just said exactly the same thing as what I was about to say next, which is that actually she's saying since she's gone freelance and she's working less days, she's working less days but smarter, right.

And she's found that way less stress than having a secure, permanent full-time job. And she saying that's weird, and I don't think it is weird. I think it's because you're in control. You can decide how much you work, how much you don't work, all of those kinds of things. And you know, you can step it up if you need to, but that whole thing about working smarter is a really, really worthwhile one, in my opinion.

So it makes me feel less stressed, improves the quality of the stuff that I'm producing. Back in, I think if you're part of the team, I think you don't want to be that person in the team, the one that nobody trusts to do anything because they're just not reliable enough. They're a bit flaky and you don't know whether you're going to get it or not.

And so I think from a team building point of view, being organized and efficient is a good team player skill to have. But I also and this is a really important one, I think it's an essential skill if you're a leader. If other people are reporting into you, you need to be that reliable, trustworthy rock that will always deliver on time, doesn't change their minds depending on what the weather is, all of that kind of stuff. Why are you grinning, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington: That's not true, though, is it? Because everyone has the story. You do, Paul Boag, about the nightmare boss that you've had over the years.

Paul Boag: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, I'm saying what it should be, not what it is.

Marcus Lillington: I'm just saying it's just so not the case half the time.

Paul Boag: I know. Yeah. But it absolutely sucks because the one thing you want from your leader, from your manager, whatever you want to call them, is you want a safe place. If somebody is flaky and unpredictable, and all over the place in the way they organize, you don't feel safe in your role, you don't feel like you know where you're going, and you can't build solid foundations without it. So I think if you've got any ambitions from the leadership side of things, then you definitely need to be stronger in your organizational skills.

Marcus Lillington: Or just a politician, one of the two.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Don't even go there. Please don't. Also, the other thing that I really like about is if you're organized, you always know that you're working on the right thing. I think that's a very big one as well. Because these days there are so many different things we can do in our role, so many different priorities that we can set. I think having a system to know what to work on, and what is most important is really useful.

So I don't think it matters what your role is, you need organizational skills. You might be a developer who needs an organizational structure for their code and a consistency in the way that they work. That's organization. You might be a project manager obviously needs project management skills, you might be a designer. I always think about Lee when I think about being unorganized and a designer, right. Lee never names his layers in his Photoshop documents or his sketch documents. It drives me nuts.

Marcus Lillington: I don't know if that's the case anymore.

Paul Boag: Is he a grown up now? That's kind of sad. I think that's a bit sad if he does that, because it was always his defining characteristic.

Marcus Lillington: I suspect he does listen, so we'll find out.

Paul Boag: Yeah. And of course design systems are a great example of being organized and structured the way it inaudible 00:26:19.

Marcus Lillington: Sorry, I've got to go back here on that because Lee listens to us at twice speed.

Paul Boag: You reckon he might miss that.

Marcus Lillington: Well, just when we sound like inaudible 00:26:29.

Paul Boag: Because I remember you telling me that once. I was talking to him once in a public summit and he just looked at me and he said, and he got this silly grin on his face. And I said, "What are you grinning at?" He said, "You just sound funny." I said, "What do you mean I sound funny?" Well, I always listen to you on twice speed." Yeah. I sound really slow.

Marcus Lillington: Anyway.

Paul Boag: Yeah, and they're marketers, of course, things like sales funnels and email automation, all that kind of stuff. It's all about being organized really. So that's why you should do it. We're going to look in a minute how to go about doing it. Before that, let's talk about a organizational tool. Because our sponsor is only focused for iOS and I promise you I didn't pick this topic because of the sponsor.

So Omnifocus if you don't know is a professional to-do list manager that helps you accomplish more every day, right? They don't say be more productive, so that makes me happy. It's interesting that the list of benefits that they talk about are pretty much identical to what we've just been talking about. That if you are using Omnifocus, it's going to lower your stress level because Omnifocus remembers everything you do, better planning because Omnifocus makes planning and reviewing your tasks easy. You get more done because Omnifocus tells you what to do next without you having to think every time.

So it runs across iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, there's a Mac app as well. It's got all the features you'd expect from actions, projects, flagging due dates, batch editing, it's got tagging. So you can tag by anything you want tagged, by person, location, energy level. It's got a forecast view. So you can see what's coming up over the next few days.

It's got flagged view, in case you want to pin something and remember it. And it's also got great system for periodically reviewing your projects to make sure that nothing gets missed or slips out. And that's a big one, Marcus, for not missing stuff. It's got some really good notification features, again, which is really good for not missing stuff. And it syncs obviously across all these platforms. So if you want to give it a go, you can find out more by going to

Right, so, how do we improve our organizational skills? There's so much written on this subject, ain't there? It almost feels like what can we say in just a few minutes on the podcast, there are entire blogs and courses and you have to pay a lot of money to go and learn how to be organized better. And there are books and all the rest of it. And so what I want to share with you, I think, is just a few of the top pieces of advice that have worked for me.

I'm not saying they'll work for you, because as we know, everybody's different. And then I want to share with you one, two, three, three other systems that I have made use of over the years and then a couple that I've heard about, but I haven't used. All right, so that's what we're going to do. So let's look at my top advice, right? My first piece of advice is have a decision making structure, right?

So what do I mean by that? Well, there are different things that we have to make decisions on fairly regularly. So things like which tasks to prioritize, which projects to prioritize, things that come up a time and time again. And it's so much easier if you have a structure for making those decisions, right? Because it stops you agonizing over those decisions to go round and round and round in circles, right?

Unless you're an incredibly decisive person, most people are going hmm, and ah, and I don't know, and then they talk to someone else, and that tells them one person one thing, and they talk to another person, and that tells them another. Just have a structure for making decisions.

So, for example, I developed a structure that a lot of organizations use now called Digital Triage, which is a way of prioritizing the projects that you work on and knowing how to … Instead of it being on a first come first serve, or whoever shouts the loudest or whoever's project is most urgent, you have a system for doing it instead. There's also a system I'm going to share with you in a minute for time management, deciding where you should be focusing your tasks, et cetera. So get yourself a system.

If you want to know more about Digital Triage, by the way, check out the show notes because that's one of the things that I will share in the show notes at the end. Second, is have a process again, for common tasks, right? If there are certain things that you're doing all of the time, have a process for doing them.

So for example, I have a process for blogging, that I will write it from beginning to end without thinking, without editing, without doing anything. Then I will run it through Grammarly to correct all my grammar mistakes and spell checking and that kind of stuff. Then I get my computer to read it out loud, to make sure I made a mistake.

Then finally I go through it adding images, headings and that kind of stuff before I publish. I always go through the same process every single time, so that I can be sure that the quality of output is going to be approximately the same every time. But most importantly, the more you use a process like that, the faster or more efficient you get it. So you can churn these things out quickly.

People constantly say, how do I manage to produce as much content as I do? That's how. I have a process. I have a process for collecting ideas for blog posts, right? So that's another piece of advice. Take time to learn and establish shortcuts.

Marcus Lillington: This is one I wish I'd started this years ago, but I don't.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: I reinvent the wheel a lot.

Paul Boag: Yeah, exactly. Let's take email, for example. I get certain emails all the time, can I be a guest on the podcast. Here's a piece of content, please check it out. I'd love to write guest posts for Boagworld. I've got to send mentorship emails out at the end of every month telling people how many hours they've got left or you know, there's a whole plethora of emails that I'm sending essentially the same email every time.

So I set it up in my email client, which is Spark, so that I've got a template. I can just drop it in, fill in the gaps, which it highlights nicely for me, and off it goes. And that's enough, and I save so much time for that. But even like a design system is an example of a shortcut, basically. Instead of writing code from scratch every time, you're using a design system.

Just keyboard shortcuts is a shortcut system to save you time. There are loads, proposals are another great one. I use a tool called Qwilr. I really ought to make a note of all these tools I keep mentioning to include in the show notes. I write my proposals with a tool called,

And the reason that I love that so much is because you can save chunks of content out as like templates that you can reuse. So every time you do like a bio or something like that, you can just drop it directly in without having to rewrite it. You do that kind of stuff, Marcus. You've got reusable stuff you do use.

Marcus Lillington: All the time. But the database is my brain.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Okay. Fair enough.

Marcus Lillington: I have to remember, oh, I wrote something good for that proposal, blah, blah, blah. And yeah, it's pretty good. But wouldn't it be nice if it was all tagged?

Paul Boag: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. And you didn't have to search through your file structure trying to remember which client it was.

Marcus Lillington: Going back and doing that, 20 years of proposals. Yeah, no.

Paul Boag: I tell you what, if it's any consolation, I'm very good at some areas. The one area I'm really bad at is presentations. I've got hundreds of presentations with slightly different variations of slide decks. You just think if I just organized that it'd be so powerful I could put a presentation together in no time. I've got-

Marcus Lillington: I should. Talking about being organized, I do have a kind of sort of general things to do Trello board, which it's not a kind of you must get this done stuff. It's just it'd be nice to do type stuff, and organize and tag or categorize or split up proposals into kind of bits, so I can pull them out has been at the top of the list for probably 10 years as a task for me to do.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: But it's just too big. It's too big a task. It would take me another 10 years to … I'm exaggerating to make a point, but yes, it would be a great thing to have. It's a bit like, so I'm going to go off on a tangent here, I look at the large pile of paper that I have just off screen to the right here, which is my filing system. And it's about two feet high at the moment, and it's sat on top of a filing cabinet.

Once a year, I go through, and half of it will get thrown in the bin, because it's stuff I thought was important and isn't. The rest of it will get put into the filing cabinet. But I don't ever have to kind of fret. Oh, where does that one go? Put that in there. Because I reckon I look in that pile for something once every six months.

So I worked out that actually it's more efficient just to have a big pile and just go through once a year. If I needed to get in that stuff once a week, then that's different. But it's just, you've got to have the right system for you and it would just take so long to sort out the proposals, it just isn't worth doing. It's the same as the paper.

Paul Boag: I'm going to disagree with you over both of the points that you've made there subtly. I do agree with what you're saying about the pile. The way I deal with that because I'm exactly the same. Our lives are full of bits of paper, we don't know what to do with, isn't it, basically?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: So I have a scanner, right? I drop it in the scanner, it goes through the scanner into an Evernote and then I'll bin it. And now it's searchable, and taggable if I want. I never bother tagging it, because I can just search it, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: So there are ways of doing it where it doesn't need to be a lot of work. But you're right, that the amount of work you put into organizing it has to be proportional to the amount of data and feed you get out of it. Otherwise, what's the bloody point?

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: But going back to your thing with the proposals, I know exactly what you mean because it's the same problem I'm facing with my presentations. The way that I'm solving it, is to just start doing it from now. So every proposal you create, you're going to go back through your old stuff to find that good bit. Now take that good bit and put it somewhere, so next time you know where it is.

Marcus Lillington: That's a good point. Because I've always sort of thought, but then you're only going to be looking at the stuff you've done recently. But you're not. It's just sort of, for the next couple of years maybe, maybe even three or four years, then I'm still going to have to be thinking back to the old ones, but eventually.

Paul Boag: Yeah, eventually, I'll stop. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Okay. Well, lovely thought. Okay, that's good.

Paul Boag: So, the other piece of advice I wanted to give is have a place for everything, right? Know where stuff is, I don't care where that is and how you want to organize it. If it's a pile on top of your filing cabinet, that's absolutely fine. You know that that kind of content is going to be in that pile, right?

Marcus Lillington: Correct. Yes.

Paul Boag: But a lot of people spread stuff everywhere, right? Tasks are a really great idea. Where do you look for tasks? It might be on the post it notes stuck around my screen, or it might be in my notebook, or it might be in an email. Or it might be one of the bits of paper on the filing cabinet. Or it might be, do you know what I mean?

Tasks should have a single source of truth, whether it be a Trello board, whether it be Omnifocus, whatever. You have one place where all of that stuff goes. And that is probably one of the biggest mistakes I see people making. And I can tell from Marcus's face that he is guilty of this one.

Marcus Lillington: A little bit.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Most of the time, I've just got … I'm a bit of a notebook fiend. I love notebooks. So nice eight, five notebook. I'll just kind of update the tasks as I'm going along in that. I do have the Trello board as well, but that's more just sort of more random stuff. But the problem is with the notebook is if there's a bit of A4 sat on top of it, and someone's on the phone, I'll write on the A4 instead of the notebook. So, yes, I'm not too bad. But yeah, that does happen.

Paul Boag: Notebook, I understand people liking the tactile nature of notebooks. I totally get it. I don't have that, but I can understand people having it and liking it and that's fine. To be honest, the only reason I don't have it is because I cut the tendon in my thumb years ago. Handwriting is painful for me. But the only disadvantage to it is you can't search it.

Marcus Lillington: Well, you can. You can use your eyes, you can flip through.

Paul Boag: All right. Katie Gillingham is a friend of mine who has just started becoming a freelancer, freelance writer, so she's doing freelance copywriting. If you want a copywriter, get in touch with me because she's brilliant. Anyway, she was writing yesterday and she got amazing notebook. It's beautiful. Her handwriting is incredible.

I asked her for a password and she was sitting there flipping backwards and forwards through this notebook. And sure enough, it was in there, but she couldn't find it. I don't understand why more people don't just take photographs of their notebook at the end of the day and put it into something like Evernote, which will look at you know, which will do OCR on it and allow you to actually search on that content. That's something I don't get.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, laziness, I suppose. But the password shouldn't be written down in your notebook anyway. They should be in 1Password or something like that.

Paul Boag: Yes, they should. She's got quite a lot on her plate. You know what it's like when you first start your own business. It's chaos, isn't it? So I let her off for that. Okay, yes. So you need a single source for all of your tasks, the place where all that stuff keeps, have everything in its place. And then of course, there's the obvious things like minimize distractions. I'm quite happy. If people want to goof off for a bit, absolutely fine. But do that in a structured way.

I'm not saying oh, never look at social media. If you want a look at social media enjoy that, then that's fine. But it's notifications and continual interruptions that I've got a problem with. Slack notifications, that ping that you hear all the time. And email is another great example. Marcus, I know what you're going to say, but you're a salesperson, your job is sitting in an email, and the nature of what you do is that. So it's a little bit different. But for a lot of people, I think just breaking up the email, and only looking at it three times a day is probably quite a good thing.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: Right. That's my advice. I just wanted to mention three different other methodologies that people often use, or these are the ones that I use these three, or I use kind of. I bastardized them and ruin them like one does. The first one is really good one for what Marcus was saying about he's had that thing at the top of his list for ages and never got around to doing it.

So that's the four quadrants of time management. It's basically a box divided into quadrants, and it's based on a thing that Eisenhower used to do when he was president to work out what he should be doing. Each box, the four boxes are important and urgent, so things like crises and emergencies. Important but not urgent, present …

Marcus Lillington: Prevention.

Paul Boag: Prevention, planning and improvement. And then not important but urgent, which is interruptions and busy work. And then not important and not urgent, which is time wasters. Right. And it's amazing how much time we spend dealing with not important but urgent interruptions, busy work, and then also how poor we are at important, but not urgent, like organizing your proposals.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: So if you're interested, it's a really simple methodology that you can use just to work out what order you should be doing tasks in. It's called the four quadrants of time management, I'll put a link in the show notes to that one. That's a nice basic one you can get your teeth into.

Another one that is a bit more complicated, but was a life changer for me, and I've mentioned it before was Getting Things Done by David Allen, right. It's a book called Getting Things Done. That's kind of organized into different levels, right? He talks about different altitudes, right? The kind of everyday base level, it helps you organize your current tasks, current actions, things you need to do next.

Then all of those current actions are organized into projects, nothing revolutionary so far. Those projects are then organized into areas of responsibility like home, work, those kinds of things. Then all of that is organized into like your one to two year goals, right? And then those are organized into your longer term goals. And then all of that is structured within your life goals, what you want to achieve with your life, so if you look at my-

Marcus Lillington: What if you don't know?

Paul Boag: Then that's okay.

Marcus Lillington: Okay.

Paul Boag: All you're doing is you're setting up … You mean your things like your life goals.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, I mean, I suppose you can be kind of vague.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I mean, mine are fairly vague. They're not I want to be president by the time I'm 57. It's things like if you want … All of my projects and tasks are organized into, I will tell you, he's opening his task organizing now to remember. They're organized into family is my number one life priority. So that gets put before anything else, and it appears first in my task list, anything related to family.

Then my personal well being, then my client work, then non client work, then experiencing more in life, then improving my social life. And then finally chores. Just by having all of my projects organized into those buckets, it means that I can look at something and go, I really should be prioritizing family over spending another hour in the office, you know, that kind of methodology.

Marcus Lillington: Okay.

Paul Boag: So that's getting things done. There's a lot more to it, but I won't bore you with it, but it's worth checking out, in my opinion. For me, it was a life changer, but I understand it's not for everybody. Then the next one is a really, really simple one that I recommend for anybody and that's called the Pomodoro Technique. If you haven't already heard of that. I'm quite surprised. It's basically the idea of breaking things that you don't want to do down into manageable 25 minute sittings.

In that 25 minutes, which is called a Pomodoro sprint, you do just that without any interruptions whatsoever. If you've got a task you estimate how many Pomodoro sprints you think it's going to be. And then you do your Pomodoro sprint, and you're done. Right? That's the basic principle.

Some people take it a bit further, apparently, you're supposed to put each sprint you're supposed to recap what you've done in previous sprints, do the work and then review what work you've done. I'm rubbish at doing that kind of stuff. But that basic principle of spending 25 minutes and then having a break, 25 minutes and then having a break. Only a five minute break works really well. It's brilliant for starting stuff you really don't want to do because you say I'll just do one sprint. I'll just do 25 minutes and almost always and you get to the end of that 25 minutes you go I'll keep going, right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Because it's the starting that's hard. So yeah, Pomodoro is brilliant. There's a couple of other systems that I haven't used, but you might want to check out. There's one called Zen to Done, and the premises of this is that actually, the big barrier to getting stuff done isn't about the system used, or the tools you have. It's about creating new habits, forming new habits. That's what this whole tool is about. It's about establishing new working habits in your life, which I totally agree with that principle. Hardest thing is establishing a habit. Once you've got the habit, then it's easy to keep going. The last one is one actually inspired by Jerry Seinfeld.

Marcus Lillington: Really?

Paul Boag: Yeah, don't break the chain. And it's all about creating or getting success in kind of creative stuff. And it helps people in creative occupations become more systematic and disciplined in the way that you accomplish tasks. So it's something that will probably be very well suited to a designer, for example. So yeah, there's a bit of advice to get you started on all of that. Let's talk about our second sponsor, and then I'll just share with you a few resources that you might want to check out that'll be in the show notes.

Our second sponsor is getting content. Oh, sorry, GatherContent. No, it's called GatherContent. The reason I'm saying getting content, it's because one of the biggest organizational headaches is getting content, isn't it, is putting it together for a website. Every time a client says to me, how long is it going to take to deliver your website? My answer is how long is it going to take you to deliver the content?

Because without fail, the content is always the thing that holds up projects, right? It's incredible. People are worried about you delivering your bit, but it's the content that will get you every time. It's a huge organizational challenge and not just about gathering the content, but organizing it and structuring it logically, creating efficient workflows for creating and managing content over the long term, and ensuring things like compliance and quality and all of those kinds of things.

So you really need a good solid tool that's going to help you do all of that. And that's where GatherContent comes in. It not only helps you facilitate the creation of great content, it also helps you with the processes of managing that content. It's a content operations platform to help you produce efficient, effective content at scale. Customers use that platform to manage their people, their processes, anything around producing effective content, to help meet their user needs and business goals. You can find out more about them by going to

Okay, so let's wrap this baby up. I promised you a lot of resources, they'll all be in the show notes as normal. So just check out, what we're on Season 24, Episode Seven, and you'll find all of that stuff. It's under the podcast section on the Boagworld website. The resources I'm going to share with you is a link that tells you more about those four quadrants of time management, where I'll include a link actually from one of our previous sponsors, I just kind of stumbled across it from … Or our upcoming sponsor I think now, I don't know, TeamGantt, is that inaudible 00:51:28.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, we haven't had them. Nope.

Paul Boag: Oh, it must be an upcoming one then. They wrote a great article on the four best productivity systems in the world. So check that out. Then I'll link to Getting Things Done by David Allen, his book and the book called Zen to Done. I'll also link to that article about Digital Triage, which is called How to End the Pain of Shifting Project Priorities.

I'll throw in some links to things like Trello, Spark, Qwilr, things like that as well. All right, so it is worth checking out the show notes. I know it takes a lot of effort to go to a website. It's so 1990s, but they go if you want the information, it's there. Marcus, do you have a joke?

Marcus Lillington: This is a joke from Headscape's own Ian Luckraft.

Paul Boag: Okay.

Marcus Lillington: Hello, Ian. He will be listening. Right, here we go. It's a five minute walk from my house to the pub. It's a 35 minute walk from the pub to my house. The difference is staggering.

Paul Boag: Actually I really like that one. That was a good joke. I approve. Thank you, Ian. Yeah, we can have a Christmas do this year. I haven't seen everybody for ages.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, I haven't organized it. People keep saying to me, so what are we doing? What are we doing? So I've kind of in my mind it's already moved into January, but that's nice. It's nice to have something to look forward to.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I'm fine with that. I just like to see everybody again. I was talking about Lee earlier, and it made me think, oh, I haven't spoken to him for ages. Anyway, nobody cares about that. All right. I think that about wraps up today's show. This was a short one. I was efficient and organized. That's what it was.

Marcus Lillington: 55 minutes, that's pretty normal, isn't it?

Paul Boag: Yeah, give or take a few minutes. So there you go. That's today's show. Thank you very much for listening. Next time, I'm quite nervous because we're going to be talking about search engine optimization. And somewhere along the line, I've managed to get myself …

I got myself in trouble once upon a time about SEO and it's haunted me for the rest of my life. That is what we're going to talk about, because I'm going to say everybody needs to know a little bit about SEO. So there you go, thank you very much for listening. And join us again next week. But until then, thanks for listening, and goodbye.

Speaker 3:

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