How to Clear Your Mind, Get More Tasks Done and Increase Productivity

On this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast, David Allen, who is the world-renowned author of the Getting Things Done (GTD®) books series talks in-depth on how he created systems to increase his productivity: by using these systems to clear his mind and arrange things he needed to do in an order of highest priority to lowest, and by doing this, accomplishing more tasks with ease and improving efficiency.

David Allen also talks about how he began his career as a consultant, how he remodeled and improved businesses using the systems he has created.

Listen to this audio interview:

Listen to more expert interviews like this:

Listen on Google Podcasts for more SweetProcess customer stories and interviews.
Listen on Apple Podcasts for more SweetProcess customer stories and interviews.

Key Resource List:

Getting Things Done (GTD®)

Show Notes:

1:53 – Dr. Weisz introduces David Allen, world-renowned for his GTD (Getting Things Done) system and books. 

3:02 – Mr. Allen begins to talk about his past, how he got into consulting, and how he was influenced by his mentor. 

5:40 – Mr. Allen talks about the techniques he used for himself and his clients to produce good results, and how he was recruited to design a training program. 

8:50 – Mr. Allen talks about the usefulness of what he calls the “mind sweep.” 

13:40 – Here Mr. Allen points out the key to getting things done. 

15:09 – Mr. Allen points out how most people work, but they haven’t defined the art of work. 

16:01- The speaker, Mr. Allen, explains how most of his consulting turned into coaching, and how he was brought in for hands-on training. 

18:40 – Mr. Allen contrasts most businesses against what he has in his mind as what it should be, as chaotic, stating, “Everybody is in chaos, and the better you are, the more interesting and sublime the chaos is.” 

19:45 – “The more sophisticated and mature people are, the more subtle and sublime the chaos is internally.” 

20:53 – Mr. Allen gives an in-depth definition of the phrase “expand more.” 

23:25 – Mr. Allen points out how people trying to use their heads as their main office are doing it wrong. 

27:43 – The speaker talks about the steps involved in attention-capturing and decision-making. 

28:44 – Mr. Allen explains how a parent uses the GTD book to motivate his child to clean his room. 

31:00 – Mr. Allen refers to the GTD systems as an eternal model, explaining how and why. 

47:00 – Mr. Allen makes it clear to get a good grip on what reality really is, how much money one really has, and how life is always a challenge.  48:40 – Mr. Allen points out what the true essence of Getting Things Done is. 

Guest profile:

David Allen is a world-renowned author, consultant, coach, and originator of Getting Things Done books and systems.

David Allen is a world-renowned author, consultant, coach, and originator of Getting Things Done (GTD®) books and systems.

David Allen is the author of five productivity-inclined books. He is also a consultant and coach for several global organizations.

Transcript of this Interview:

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Speaker 1: (singing).

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, host of the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their jobs. Before we get to introducing today’s guest who’s world renowned, he is, in my mind, synonymous with all of those things, actually, David Allen.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I’m going to talk about today’s sponsor. The episode is brought to you by SweetProcess, and if you have had team members ask you the same questions over and over again, a tenth time, you’ve spent explaining, it’s probably your fault. And you need to put in a solution, and SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. And they not only help universities, banks, hospitals, software companies, but actually I found out that first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations. So, you could use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work. There’s a free 14-day trial with no credit card. Go to sweetprocess.com. That’s sweet like candy, S-W-E-E-T, process.com.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: And I’m excited for today’s guest. I’ve listened to the new edition of his book. Today, we have David Allen who is world renowned for his GTD, getting things done, system and books and certification. And over two million people have been introduced to GTD and discovered the power of clearing their mind, sharpening their focus and accomplishing more with ease and elegance. And he wrote the New York Times bestselling, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity in 2001 and re released a new edition in 2015. The book’s published in over 28 languages and Time Magazine heralded it as the defining self-help business book of its time. David, thanks for joining me.

David Allen: Jeremy, thanks for the invitation. Delighted to be here.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: There’s a couple ways we can go, and we’ll talk about some of the workflow, which you probably talked about until you’re red in the face over the years. And I want you to talk about this. There’s this really cool picture online I found of you holding up the Yuppie Bible. So, we will definitely talk about that. But, I figured we would talk about the origins and what your mentor taught you, and start there.

David Allen: Sure. Well, let me back up a little bit, Jeremy. I got into this, several different vectors sort of came together. And one was my interest in maintaining clarity and clear space in my own head. I had spent time in the martial arts. I had a black belt in karate, meditation, spiritual practice, sort of self-exploration stuff. This is Berkeley in ’68, ’69, ’70. So, heady time to be there. And basically was on a path of self-exploration, but they weren’t’ paying people to do that, so I had to keep a job. I had friends who were starting their own businesses around me, and they’re all small companies. And I became a good number two guy, started helping guys out. So, I’d walk in, have a look around to see what they were doing, and basically see, "Gee, is there some easier way we could do this?" I’m just the laziest guy you ever met, so I always look and say, "Is there some easier way we can get this done?" Now, they call that process improvement, fancy term. I’m just like-

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: The most productive people I know are lazy in nature because they want to find faster ways to get it done.

David Allen: Sure. Well, efficiency and laziness, I suppose you could kind of combine those two things. Anyway, so I’d walk in and improve their condition and get bored. It worked, okay fine. Then, I’d get bored, so I’d leave and get another number two job. So, that’s why I had to say… If you’ve read my background, that’s why I say I had 35 jobs by the time I was 35. Simply because I was just banging around paying the rent. But, wasn’t stupid, and I helped out people and did some good work. So, I was a good number two guy. And then, one day, I discovered they actually pay people to do that. They called them something, so consultant. I couldn’t spell it, now I are one. So, I hung out my shingle, 1981 Allen Associates.

David Allen: Also, given the fact that I like efficiency, I didn’t like to have to try to make it up every time I had a new client in terms of how to help them, if it wasn’t obvious what I could do. So, I was hungry for models, or at least a model or some model, that if it wasn’t clear what I could do, I could pull this out of my back pocket and walk people through some sort of a model that would improve their condition. So, I was hungry for those kinds of techniques, et cetera, in that way.

David Allen: I then began to, also just for myself, I like to be clear and stay clear, and as my life was getting a bit more complex and more complicated, I was kind of growing up professionally and career wise. I saw how easy it was to lose focus, lose control, myself personally. So, I was also very hungry for those kind of techniques for myself. So, it turned out that the techniques that I was finding for myself, they worked really really well. I found some very very cool stuff and turned around and used them with my clients and produced exactly the same result: more control, more focus, more space to focus on the meaningful stuff that they wanted to do. That was working very well, and then somebody in the big corporate world sort of showed up and said, "Wow. Our whole company needs that outcome." So, he asked me to come in and design a training program around all that. I found myself thrust into the corporate training world. So, that’s another long vector that took off from there, and that’s where the Yuppie Bible kind of came from because I was training thousands of people in the corporate world out there. You could’ve fooled me that I was going to be in the corporate training world.

David Allen: But, back to your initial question about the DNA of this. Some of the original techniques that I was learning for myself came from a mentor of mine, a man named Dean [Atchinson 00:06:47], not the famous one, but another guy, still a good friend. And he had spent many years as an executive coach and consultant in organizational change. And he and I hooked up together. He sort of took to me and said, "Gee, David. You’re probably going to take this maybe further than I am." And he kind of took me under his wing, and I spent a-

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Why did he think that, David? Why did he think you were going to take it further than him?

David Allen: I don’t know. Intuition, I guess. He wasn’t particularly aspirational in terms of either what he had learned trying to spread it around the world, education wise. He was just interested in his own boutique kind of consulting practice. But, he took me under his wing, and I brought him a good client to begin with. So, we worked together, and then he shared with me a whole lot of what he had learned about organizational change. And he shared with me a very powerful model about how to do that. It was a five-phase model. And one of the things that he had discovered was that it was very difficult to get an organization to change and move forward toward where it thought it wanted to go. If it had a lot of old business, and a lot of incompletions, and a lot of unconscious stuff that was kind of hanging around like big barnacles on a ship. So, you’d try to get an organization to try to change and move forward when it has a lot of old business that’s incomplete and hanging them up, psychologically and even physically that it’s like trying to pull somebody through quicksand.

David Allen: So, he discovered some techniques, especially working particularly with senior executives, CEOs of the companies he was working with. They had really trouble making decisions, or they had a lot of old business that was sort of hanging around them, and sort of sucking the wind out of their sails. So, just in his own frustration and working with his own clients, he one day just had somebody sit down and just empty everything that was on their mind. Any old business, any incompletions, any projects that hadn’t been finished, any old business at all, and started to empty and do what now we call the mind sweep in Getting Things Done. Literally, everything they had their attention on, personal, professional, anything they were willing to share, just get it out of their head. Write it on a single piece of paper. Buy cat food. Hire a vice president. Research a new X, Y, Z, whatever it was.

David Allen: And then, he had them take that big pile of stuff they got out of their head and pick up them one at a time and say, "What’s the next action I would need to take to move the needle on this toward closure?" And he had them make the next action decisions. He did that process with me. My act was pretty well together. I thought I was pretty well organized and focused, but he said, "David, let me show you what this is like." So, he sat me down and had me do that process, and I went, "Oh, my God." I’m dumping stuff out of my head I didn’t even know was in there. And then, he had me go through that stack one at a time and make the next action decision about it. And he had a whole process about once I’d made the action decision, if I could do it in two minutes, I should just do it right then. If I could delegate it, there was a little paper based memo. This was before even paper planners. I mean this is 1981-82.

David Allen: So, all this was just on paper, just low tech, but very very powerful. It made sure I had an in basket, made sure I had a place to throw the stuff that had my attention. Made sure that I had an out basket that I could put the stuff if I was delegating or it needed to go out somewhere, making sure I had a good filing system to park the stuff that I just needed to reference. So, it was low tech, but extremely practical and extremely powerful. And what a surprise, big duh. This sounds like very basic stuff, but most people aren’t even close to doing what that process really is. So, I literally then spent hundreds of hours with Dean walking through… As soon as we’d work with a CEO, we had to run fast and work with all the direct reports because the CEO, as we were doing this, was just suddenly unloading tons of stuff. And all the people, the direct reports were like, "Oh, my God. What is all this?"

David Allen: Well, the boss had been the bottleneck, so we just uncorked that. So, we would just run through the whole organization and made sure everybody had this same process of keeping the head clear, had an in basket, had a place to grab all the stuff and surface a lot of the old business, actually all of the old business, and make next action decisions and move the needle on them. Either throw it away, or file it away, or let’s engage with it appropriately. So, that was very very powerful. That was just his initial process so that then you could take the senior team and focus on purpose and vision and what’s the vision of the company and do a reorg, based upon outputs and based upon yada yada, a very powerful model in terms of just organizational chains. And I, for many years, worked with a number of clients just as a consultant doing that kind of stuff.

David Allen: But, the funny thing, Jeremy, was that just that first process solved 90% of the presenting issues. All you had to do was surface, "Well, wait a minute. What’s got anybody’s attention in the organization?" And then, find out how do I unstick that. And the organization, almost organically, by itself starts to move, starts to change. You free up tons of energy that you can use then, if you’ve got a good process to then focus that released energy toward whatever the new direction is. Very powerful stuff.

David Allen: Anyway, that was two or three years of working very closely with Dean and then doing my own work in that regard, and finding out that just that first process of capturing and clarifying what was on people’s mind and what they had attention on, just become the core of a whole lot of what my consulting practice was. And that became the core element when a corporation asked me to design a whole training around this. It really is… And you can take this at a mundane level, but also pretty sublime level. Our work here is about completion and creation. You’re here to finish what you put in motion. Whether you like it or not, it’s around you. You can fool me, but not yourself in terms of commitments you’ve made with yourself. And then, where are you pointing your creative energy once you free it up.

David Allen: So, those two things, you can expand that, you can contract it down to work with a seven-year-old. We’re teaching kids this stuff, and then you can take it all the way up to the most sophisticated busiest people on the planet, because I’ve spent thousands of hours, literally desk side working with them, and doing this kind of stuff. Very powerful. And it’s kind of a "duh". When you think about it, the interesting thing is the most powerful thing is the thought process that this installs. Outcome and action. The keys to getting things done is first of all what does done mean, and what does doing look like, and where does that happen? But, what does done mean? Very few people are really clear about what that is. Well, just the project you’ve got now. This thing has got your attention. Why has it got your attention? "Well, I don’t like this." Well, what would you like to have true? "Oh, that’s a good question." Yeah, no kidding. So, what’s the project? What’s the outcome you’re committed to actually move on right now? How would you like to feel? What would you like to produce? What’s the desired outcome?

David Allen: And by the way, if you had nothing else to do but that, what would you do? Where would you go physically? Where would you put your attention right now? If you had nothing else to do, what’s the very next action step you would need to take? And those two things, and by the way when I say next action, I mean as granular as send an email, surf the web, talk to your life partner, draft a document, pick up the phone. Whatever the next physical visible thing I’d see you do, it has to be that granular. Otherwise, you haven’t finished your thinking. And the thing is still spinning inside your psyche.

David Allen: So, that was basic stuff that I began to not only learn, but then spend hundreds and then thousands of hours working with people one on one, just applying that thought process and seeing, interestingly enough, how rare it was to find anybody who actually had built that in as a habit. Most people work, but they haven’t defined the art of work. And the art of work, and the late great Peter Drucker would tell everybody who has to think about what they’re doing, that their biggest job is figuring out what your work actually is. The mail that comes in your mailbox still doesn’t label itself as junk mail. You have to do that.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I love junk mail.

David Allen: I know. Me, too. I found some of the coolest things in the world from junk mail. It’s not junk mail, then.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah.

David Allen: So, it’s only junk mail once you make the decision that I don’t need that, that it’s not a someday, maybe even. "Ooh, that’s a cool brochure, and I might want to go there, somewhere once the virus is over or whatever." So, yeah. Some of these basics I began to explore a long time ago, and then I began to refine that. A lot of my consulting turned into coaching, actually, for mid to senior level executives in these companies where I was being brought in to do a lot of the training about this stuff because they wanted hands on, desk side, one on one time with me to actually implement it themselves. So, it wasn’t so much coaching like let’s spend a year together, though it has morphed over the years into sometimes I’ve done that with a client. But, for the most part it was just like, "Hey, let me take you by the hand and implement this methodology."

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: That’s where the certification comes in. People can now hire your certified partners.

David Allen: Correct.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah.

David Allen: Yeah. So, learning to coach, coaching really well, which I learned first from Dean, my first mentor, and then we built… I wasn’t particularly aspirational or entrepreneurial myself, but just wound up having a bit of a boutique kind of training and coaching company with just enough of my own coaches and trainers to keep up with the demand that was just… I never marketed anything. It was just pick up the phone. It was all by referral. So wound up, fast forward, over the next 30 years spending thousands of hours, quite literally, one on one desk side with some of the best and brightest folks you’d ever meet. And hundreds of thousands of people going through trainings that both I did, as well as certified coaches and trainers in our company. So, there’s a very short version of a very long story, Jeremy.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. I hate to give you more work, David, but I would love to see your next book, Boss is the Bottleneck, and you talk about the craziest stories, kind of cleaning up organizations, almost like a Chicken Soup for the Soul for cleaning up all the stories dumped out of your head of, "Okay, we went into this, and here’s some of the stuff we did," type of thing.

David Allen: It’s funny. People have often asked me that. Oh, by the way, just interesting, serendipitously, Jack Canfield and I shared the stage together, sort of as personal growth trainers back in the late 70s and early 80s. So, Jack knows all this stuff, as well.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Allen: Anyway, people have often asked, "Well, what are some of the most interesting or strange or different things you’ve ever run across?" Not much. It’s all pretty much the same thing.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I wasn’t going to ask strange, but I would say most chaotic. Do you remember one of those, "wow". I mean not necessarily a hoarder situation, but a chaotic organization and what… No?

David Allen: No. Relative to what I have as a reference point in terms of clean and clear space, everybody is chaotic. Everybody is in chaos. And it’s kind of like the better you are, the more interesting and sublime the chaos is. See, let me boost this up a little bit. If you don’t pay attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. And once you handle what has your attention, you’ll find out what really has your attention. Which, by the way, once you then appropriately engage with, opens you up to find out what really has your attention. So, it’s a big onion to unpeel. So, just because somebody feels and looks and maybe looks like their organized and in control, there’s multiple levels there that may not be true, that they need to explore.

David Allen: As a matter of fact, the more sophisticated and mature people are, the more subtle and sublime the chaos is internally, like what am I really doing with my life now that I’m 55? Wow, I just graduated, and they just handed me this new job. Do I really want that? So, out of control can look like a lot of different things. They don’t look out of control. As a matter of fact, there’s a strange paradox about this Jeremy, is that… Well, the real strange paradox is the people most attracted to this are the people who need it the least. They’re already the most productive, aspirational, positively focused, future focused kind of folks. It’s just they’ve come up to the limit of their own ability to be able to keep expanding their ability to do good stuff. They’re already doing good stuff. I got them to the successful thing, but they’ve just hit the limit.

David Allen: And because they already know the value of system, that’s what got them there, they already know that they can produce good stuff because they’re already doing that. They just know they’re limited now, and they want more. They wanted to be able to expand more, and expand more does not necessarily mean work harder or even produce more physical results. It may be expand more called get more time with my kids, or expand more, be able to be a greater service to people around me. Or, expand more to be more of a mentor and a servant leader in the organization that I’m working in. So, expansion can look or sound like a lot of things. I’ve had to deal with the fact that the word productivity has got a lot of baggage around it because it kind of sounds like work harder, sweat more, do more. And everybody’s already kind of up to here.

David Allen: And sometimes it is about getting more physically done because a lot people are quite inefficient in terms of the stuff they’re getting done. But, many times it’s more like improving the quality of what you’re getting done and how you’re moving through the commitments and how you engage with life.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I changed the title now. Then, it’s called Expand More, and then the Boss is the Bottleneck is the subtitle.

David Allen: No, that’s very creative. Another maybe title of the book, but actually it’s just a reframe of how you think about what getting things done is. It’s not as much about getting things done as it is about being appropriately engaged with your life. Are you appropriately engaged with your health? Are you appropriately engaged with your cat? Are you appropriately engaged with your job? Are you appropriately engaged with your desk? Are you appropriately engaged with your desk drawer? Appropriate engagement doesn’t mean that you’re finished. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing everything about it. It just means that you’re fine with the way it is and how you are currently relating to it. So, that’s why a lot of the key of getting things done, and a lot of the way our coaches and our trainers work with people is to find out, "What has your attention?". Because usually, it’s say 95% of the time, things are on your mind because you’re not yet appropriately engaged with them.

David Allen: That is, it’s on your mind because some part of you still knows there’s some decision about it you need to make, or you need to park the results in some sort of trusted place that you figure you or the right person will see at the right time in the right context. Because then, it won’t be on your mind because you’ve now externalized your commitment into an external system that’s trusted. It’s the mind is then freed up to do what it does best, which is make good strategic, intuitive judgments. The mind did not evolve to remember or remind. It’s a crappy office, and that’s one of the biggest problems, and that’s where a lot of the, at least, subliminal stress is coming from for a lot of people is they’re trying to use their head as their office. They’re trying to use their head to remember, remind, prioritize, and manage relationships between a whole lot of commitments and a whole lot of things out there, personal and professional.

David Allen: And then, I discovered this over 30 years ago, but the cognitive scientists in the last 10 years of 15 years have now discovered and proven that the number of things you can hold just in your psyche and still manage it appropriately in terms of remembering, reminding, and managing the relationships and prioritizing is four. I just interviewed Daniel Levitin not long ago, his new book on Successful Aging [inaudible 00:24:07] book, and Daniel wrote the Organized Mind. I mean he’s a deep cognitive science researcher with Yale University and other places. And I mentioned to Dan, I said four things. He said, "David, wrong." I said, "Wrong?" He said, "Two." I said, "Two?" He said, "Yeah. It’s two." Maybe that’s since WhatsApp and since whatever, I don’t know, but his point of view was the brain, it just will get fried. And that’s what a lot of people are dealing with, and that’s what a lot of just my methodology was.

David Allen: I discovered the algorithm of about how do you get stuff off your intention without having to finish it, but that’s not free. You don’t get there by drinking or meditating. I mean those are fine things to do. They may numb your head, or let you leave your head, but if in the world that you’re in, if you want to have a clear head, cooking spaghetti or spending time with your kids, or writing the business plan, or whatever it is you want to do, you’ve got to then deal with the things that you’ve committed to. Most people are just committed to a whole lot more things than they realize.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. When I think of getting things done, I think of organizational psychology meets Confucius, something like that.

David Allen: Yeah. Well, there’s a whole lot to that. I mean I really have love, actually since high school, I read a lot of Zen, and I’m a big fan of the Sufi stuff. And I love that, sort of the minimalist thinking style, if you will. And the efficiency and effectiveness of a lot of those ancient philosophies are quite sublime. And people say, "Gee, David, did all this come from zen?" I say, "No, it sort of discovered the same stuff I discovered."

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. We mentioned a few things. In sort of the beginning parts of the GTD workflow, so you talked about the capture, the clarify… Would you consider what you talked about… And before we go there, you mentioned, you could do this with seven year olds, you could do this with the top CEO executives. It doesn’t matter, and I was actually with my daughter the other day. She’s eight, and we set up a Trello board, basically motivated by and inspired by Getting Things Done, and we had a brain dump column, a to-do column, a doing column, and a done column because we had stuff we wanted to do yesterday. So, we brain dumped everything, and then we started moving it. But, she had a clarification for me, and she wanted a fun stuff column which preceded the to-do column. So, we had to move the brain dump stuff, the fun stuff, do that first, and then the to-do. So, thank you for that. So, getting her started on getting stuff out of her head, so you could just clear your mind a little bit to start.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So, I think the first two things, the capture and the clarify, are those two that you just mentioned, where does that fall into what you just talked about? And then, maybe just mention, you know we have the organize, reflect, and engage also?

David Allen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, capture and clarify, those are extremely powerful. I mean it’s really a holistic model, the five steps, if you really want to sort of stay clear and stay in control and focused. And by the way, I didn’t make up those five steps. I recognized it. But, they’re very different steps. It’s a very different thing for you and your daughter to capture the stuff that might have your attention, that you might want to do something about, versus the decision to then, what specifically do I want to do and where does that go. Which, then morphs to the third stage, which is where does it go. Which column do I put it in? That’s called organize. So, once you’ve determined what this means, "Ooh, that’s a fun thing. Ooh, that’s kind of a work thing," then fine. Where do you put fun stuff, and where do you put work stuff? So that when you’re into fun mode, you’re not bothered by your work stuff. And when you’re in work mode, you’re not bothered by your fun stuff. Big, duh. Well, out of the mouths of babes, right?

David Allen: And even to that point, the fact that most people have not externalized all of the stuff that has their attention. One parent, several years ago, had a kid that just never cleaned his room. So, his dad kind of got GTD and said, "Well, okay. Let me see if we can play this game." So, what he did was instead of just telling the kid, "Go clean your room." He said, "Hey, hey. Let’s play a game. Let’s go find all the stuff that’s not where it ultimately belongs. Let’s play the game. Let’s see how many things we can find that aren’t where they ultimately should be. Okay. Go." And so, he had a big box, and they went all around and found all the stuff, and they put it in the big box. Cool. Okay. Now, the second part of the game is let’s take each one of these things one at a time, pick it up, and see where does it go. Let’s see how fast we can do that. Okay. Pick it up. That goes over there. Hey, we’re almost to the bottom. Keep…

David Allen: The kid wound up cleaning his room on a regular basis. He got the game. Guess what? You tell a kid to clean their room, their psyche is so creative and so fast, they’re thinking of how many things they’re going to have to decide, how many decisions they’re going to make. Oh, my God. They just blow a fuse. That’s why most adults resist this process, as well. It’s like, "Oh, my God. Sit down and write down everything that’s got my attention. Oh, my God. Don’t ask me to do that." And then, people get mad at me for their lists. I’m going, "I’m sorry. That ain’t my list. It’s yours." You can decide where you want to keep track of it. But, kind of out of the mouths of babes, interestingly enough, the model of "Wow, now I can clean my room as a game," simply because I got the capture, clarify steps as individual and discreet practices that need to be done sort of in cooperation and in coordination with with each other.

David Allen: Of course, he included this sort of step three, which is organize, once they decided, "Oh, that’s that toy, and those toys go over there. This is a fun thing. That goes in the fun column." That’s the organize step. Put stuff where it goes so you don’t have fun stuff mixed up with the other stuff because then you start to go numb to the pile. So, then organize just simply means once you’ve decided what this is, and if you can’t finish it in the moment, stick it somewhere so you don’t have to keep rethinking what it means or what you need to do with it when you decide to engage with it.

David Allen: And then, step four says look at the piles. Look at the column. Hey, you want to have fun, go look at that. That’s the reflect process. You go, "Okay, let me step back a little bit and take a look at the inventory of the things that I have actually uncovered." And then, step five simply says, "Okay, now let me go have fun. Let me go do that thing. Let me engage now." But, now what I’ve done because I’ve captured and clarified and organized it all and stepped back and reviewed from a little higher perspective on the whole thing, I’m now making a trusted choice about how I’m engaging my activity and my focus. So, it’s true for a seven-year-old. It’s true for a 70-year-old. It’s true for the CEO of a global corporation. It’s true for a stay at home dad. It’s true for anybody. But, again, you’re not born doing this. If you were, I’d had to get another job.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So, what made you decide to release another edition of Getting Things Done?

David Allen: Well, the model is eternal. 100 years from now, or whenever we fly to Jupiter, you still need an in basket. You’re still going to have to capture stuff that has your attention. You’re still going to have to decide the next action on it. You’re still going to have to have some system that’s going to organize the reminder of it, so you can engage with the right thing at the right time. So, it’s an eternal model. It has been since I sort of uncovered it, discovered it, and formatted it, if you will. I really framed it, I guess, more consciously than most people were aware of. That’s, I suppose, the value of what I brought to the table, was to be able to frame the model. So, that didn’t really change. A little deeper understanding 15 years later of what these… You may have noticed I changed some of the wording a little bit, like instead of collect, it’s capture. Instead of process, it’s clarify. Instead of review, it’s reflect.

David Allen: Because those things represent a more global phenomenon of this model as opposed to sort of this mechanical, "Let me just deal with the stuff that I’ve already produced. It’s out there. Let me just kind of get it into place." It works that way, too. But, this is actually a bit more expansive. So, my vocabulary expanded to include the more sublime aspects, I think, of what the model really does and produces. For the most part, the audience changed a ton. See, when this was first written. I took four years to write it. Started in ’97, and we got it on the shelves in 2001. This was really targeted for the fast track professional in the U.S. They were the people that were the first kind of experience with that tsunami of email and all the inputs in the digital flood of stuff and fast change going on in their organizations. So, they were the hungriest, essentially, for this model to kind of stay afloat amidst all of that. And they were the people that were most interested in paying us to bring this stuff to them.

David Allen: So, the first book was… I’ve got a suit and tie, and it’s targeted for that audience, and a lot of the vocabulary and a lot of the examples because that’s where a lot of my experience came from was the corporate world, even though I worked a lot with smaller companies and startups and entrepreneurs. But, the bulk of my time was spent in the big corporate environment out there. But, I knew even back then that this worked for students, it worked for the clergy, it worked for sole proprietors, it worked for physicians, it worked for attorneys, it worked for anybody that’s got a busy life. I’d seen it, and it worked with people, to watch how powerful it was.

David Allen: So, 15 years later… Well, let’s say back in 2001, I’d say maybe in an organization 10% of the people really, really, really needed this. Now, 95% of the people in organizations need it. People don’t have time to hold people’s hands. People have to then sort of be their own entrepreneurs, be their own executives no matter what level they’re at in the organization because things are moving so fast, and they have to stay in control of themselves. So, a lot of it was just the expansion of the audience to include a lot more people in a lot of other different kind of professions and contexts in that way. And also, included, as you know, in one of the last chapters, a lot of the cognitive science stuff that has shown up since the first edition was written, that basically just validates this model.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: David, what are ways that people can engage with Getting Things Done? They can get the books. You have a certification program. And I wanted you to talk a little bit about the workbook.

David Allen: Well, let me just give kind of a big confession right here, Jeremy. And that is, I’m not a really good trainer. I’m certainly not a good instructional designer. I’m a good presenter, and I was really more of a researcher than an educator than anything else. But, I didn’t know how really to make this stick for people. I just knew what I’d discovered, and the model worked. So, I wrote the book really as a manual in case I got run over by a bus. It took me 20 years to figure out what I had figured out, and then nobody else seemed to have figured it out that way, and that it was bulletproof because it had been tested and proven in the toughest environments you could imagine. It went viral inside of those environments, so I knew this really really worked.

David Allen: So, I had some good coaching firms, good friends that said, "Write the book." "Ah, write the book. Oh, my God." Okay. So, that was an agonizing process. Amazing how stressful it was to write a book about stress free productivity. So, that said, as the book became quite successful and got translated around the world and started to spread around the world and people knocking on our door from around the world, "David, can I be a GTD coach? Can I distribute this in Italy? Can I do this in China? Can I do this in wherever?" As I say, that was bigger gum than I knew how to chew, how to build some sort of global model about this. So, we decided, "Okay, well let’s turn our focus to what can we do because it’s such great stuff. Let’s not hold it back from the world."

David Allen: So, the last 10 or 15 years, our focus strategically has been how do we scale this. How do we build a global model for this, and how do we create an education that actually sticks? Because it’s a lot of stuff. Come on, if you listen to my seven and a half hours of my audio, that’s a lot of stuff to go and implement. Unless you’re already really close anyway, it could be quite daunting. So, a lot of the coaching, and we’ve gotten really good coaching over the last 10 years from some of the best instructional designers in the world really. And a lot of it’s about simplifying, not step down the methodology.

David Allen: But, simplify the ease and lower the barrier of entry for people to get involved with this and actually start to do the behaviors themselves. That’s all kind of the big back story to then ultimately we just produced the Getting Things Done workbook, which is like take the ten steps to actually implement this, so you don’t have to go try to figure that out through the book. You could, but this makes it a lot easier, and it’s got QR codes, so if you put your phone on that, you’ll see a little video of me talking about what you just read. So, it makes it a lot easier, I think, for people to engage with it. So, that’s why the workbook.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So, I wish you would have told me that a week ago. No, I’m just kidding. No, I love the book. So, is it on gettingthingsdone.com?

David Allen: Well, if you go to gettingthingsdone.com, that’s our website, we don’t sell books anymore. We actually don’t do coaching and training ourselves anymore because we’ve now licenses partners all around the world, and licensed pretty rigorous training that we’ve certified licensed trainers and coaches to actually deliver this work like we would do up, up to our level of quality. And the book, you just have to get from your… Please, go get it from your local bookstore. Kim and I love to support local bookstores, but you can get it from anywhere that good books are sold. And also, last year we produced Getting Things Done for Teens. So, over the years parents kept banging on our door and said, "Oh, my God. How do I get this to my kid?" Or, "Gee, I wish I’d have learned this when I was 15." Yeah, me too. So, I co wrote that with two parents who were big GTDers and really good at this. One of them was a key executive in our company, and the other coauthor was still a public school teacher in Minneapolis, who’s teaching his kids. That’s why I say we know it works for seven, eight, and nine year olds because he’s been teaching it for two or three years, this stuff, and has his own model of how he does that.

David Allen: So, that’s what’s happened. I suppose since the success of the book, is now how do we distribute it to the audience that really can use it, and how do we distribute it around the world and try to figure that out. So, still got a lot ahead of us.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Can they get it on your would, the workbook? Where do they get the workbook?

David Allen: No. Same thing. They can go to the bookstore. You can go to Amazon. You can go anywhere.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Oh, you can get the workbook at the bookstore, too?

David Allen: Yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: All right.

David Allen: The Getting Things Done Workbook.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Okay, nice.

David Allen: But, it’s kind of in the same model, as there was the Seven Habits Workbook, any of the really good business books that were quite successful. Many of them produced a workbook afterwards to make it easier for people to play and engage.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I want to talk about the Yuppie Bible a little bit. There’s a really cool picture online of you holding up this huge book. I think, when I was reading it, it dates to 1985. And the subtitle is Rollout to Large Corporate Client in the U.S., and it’s you holding this huge book.

David Allen: Well, that was McDonnell Douglas. Interestingly the corporation that brought me in to begin with, that asked me to take the stuff that I was doing and design a seminar and training around it was Lockheed, the head of human resources there. And he became a huge champion of our stuff, and then he moved over to McDonnell Douglas and then he brought me over to McDonnell Douglas. And I wound up training literally thousands of engineers and people at McDonnell Douglas. So, at one point, they were having some sort of a celebration, and they invited me to some big dinner or whatever, a big surprise to me. And back then, there was the idea of the yuppies, the young and up and coming, or whatever yuppie stood for. And they brought me up on stage, and of course, these engineers at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis had manufactured this huge copy of this black book.

David Allen: Because at the time, when we were doing training, we were actually including the best paper planner in the world. We had discovered the best one. Back then, paper planners had just kind of shown up, but we found the best one. So, as we were doing the trainings, we actually included that. It was called Time System out of Denmark. It was called Time Design in the U.S. because there was already a Time System copyrighted in the U.S., so they had to change the name. But, we included that, and it still is a very classy, graphically one of the best designed paper planners in the world. I used it for 20 years. It’s a great tool. So, we included that. So, they just made this huge big black model of this paper planner because people all around McDonnell Douglas were walking around with this black book after they’d been to my training. So, that’s where that came from. It was very fun.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: David, first of all, thank you. I have one last question. Before I ask it, everyone should check out gettingthingsdone.com and the books in your local bookstore, Amazon, or whatever. I prefer Audible, so I have it on Audible. But, before I ask my last question, I guess my second to last question, what’s next for you? What are you focused on and working on?

David Allen: Well, a lot of what I’ve been doing for the last two or three years and keep doing is supporting a lot of our new licensees because we’ve wound up with a program both in the U.S. we’ve partnered with VitalSmarts in the U.S., fabulous company, and they’re certifying the trainers for the U.S. and Canada. And then, outside of that, we’ve partnered with a company called SMCOVEY. Actually, that’s David Covey who is Stephen’s son, and [Steffan Mardux 00:43:27]. They had come from Franklin Covey, and they built the sort of global network there. So, they took me by the hand and said, "Okay, David. Let’s partner together. We’ll help you do that." So, they build their global network. We’re now officially in about 73 countries, I think, where you can see that.

David Allen: If you go onto our website and look at training, you can just see all the different countries that deliver our training. So, a lot of what I’ve been doing in the last two or three years is when we have a new licensee, once they kind of get their feet on the ground, I show up for a week and do press and sort of let the world know these guys have my imprimatur, and this is the real folks. Because there are a lot of GTD pirates out there and have been. People read the book, and say, "Oh, I can do this." So, it was kind of disturbing the brand and the quality. So, a lot of our work now is more support of the licensees who are now doing great work and a fabulous network of people out there, some of the coolest folks you’d ever meet. One of the reasons I’m in Amsterdam… Aside from the fact that we love this city, and we wanted to move to Europe anyway. It’s much more the center of the world than Santa Barbara was, where I came from, which is also a lovely place. But, in the last six to nine months, I’ve been in Moscow. I’ve been in Kiev. I’ve been in Tel Aviv. I’ve been in Athens. So, that’s a lot of what I’m doing.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: You can get to all the European countries. You can get all over Europe much easier, obviously, from Amsterdam than if you were in Santa Barbara.

David Allen: Oh, yeah. It’s much more the center of the world.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: It’s impossible to fly into Santa Barbara. I mean not impossible, but it’s definitely…

David Allen: Yeah.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So, I could see why.

David Allen: Yeah. It’s tricky business, yeah. For sure.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: My last question is I’m curious of your favorite books of all time, business and/or otherwise.

David Allen: I go from sort of favorite book to favorite book to favorite book, so it’s kind of hard to [crosstalk 00:45:21].

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: You don’t have to choose one. Yeah. Any ones that have influence you, I guess you could say.

David Allen: One of the best recent ones is called The Antidote, Oliver Burkeman. He’s the Brit. He’s actually a GTDer, too. I think the subtitle… Do I have it here? Not on my shelf. The subtitle is Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. And it’s really, really good. My wife, who seldom laughs out loud when she’s reading, just kept laughing out loud. He’s a great writer, and he did it really well. A lot of it is about… Well, he actually goes into something that I didn’t really understand as much as I do now of the… Not the sophists, but who were sort of the… Sort of the ascetics of the Greeks, the stoics, yeah. So, he explains a lot about stoicism because we all think that’s this big asceticism, hard work, go to stop all that. And it wasn’t really that at all, in a much more subtle level.

David Allen: It actually has a bit tie in with GTD, in that it’s a lot about the acceptance of current reality, as opposed to, "Yeah, yeah. Happy, happy, da, da, da. Don’t have any negative thoughts." No, have whatever thoughts you have. And a big acceptance of current reality is actually required if you want to move forward appropriately. So, a whole lot of what Getting Things Done is about is an acceptance of the current reality. What are all the commitments you’ve actually got? As opposed to trying to ignore those, or trying to only have positive thoughts, and only think about the things you want to do, but still not deal with the realities that you’re dealing with. And right now, especially with the Pandemic going on, that’s one of the most important things to advise people about right now is you better get a good grip on what current reality really is for you. How much money do you have? How long can you go before you have to change something? What’s going on? How do you feel? What’s up?

David Allen: Basically, it’s saying life is not necessarily fun. It’s always a challenge, and you wouldn’t grow if you didn’t have challenges. So, you actually don’t have to like your life to get it off your mind and to appropriately engage with it. So, it was big validation of that, a very well-written, very fun, and I think it’s a really good sort of wake up call, and especially now with what’s going on in the world. And I think it’d be a great book for people to read. So, Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote, a great book to read.

David Allen: Current reality, and I could spin a lot about that. If you pick up a map or look at your GPS, or what’s the first thing you look at if you want to go somewhere? Where you are. If you don’t know where you are, even if you know where you’re going, you don’t know whether to turn right or left. So, you need to know where you are, and then of course, it goes back to outcome and action again. Sort of the fundamental GTD thought process. What do you want to have true now? What’s true now? What would you like to have to true instead of this, if you want this different? And being able to sort of get in the driver’s seat of your life is a whole lot of, I think, what the essence of Getting Things Done really is, and why so many people, even though it looks fairly simple and highly practical, a lot of people have quite transformative experiences when they start to apply it.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: You know, I should never say, "last question", David. But, it brings up… I wanted to know your-

David Allen: By the way, Jeremy, I never believe anybody who ever says, "Here’s my last question."

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah, exactly. You shouldn’t. Because you brought something up that I have a note to ask about, is your wife’s influence on the company.

David Allen: My wife’s influence on the company. Well, she met me in a seminar I was delivering 35 years ago because her company required people to go to my seminar. So, she met me there. And then, she wound up working for the boutique kind of consulting and training company that we had in Los Angeles. And we were married to different people at different times, but things change. So, one day, she asked me out. She was divorced, and I was divorced. She asked me out for a date, and like, "Oh, my God. What do I do with that?" Anyway, so she’s been working with me. She’s been working in the company. She was actually one of the first people to train our coaches. So, she got trained by Dean and me and was very similar, very in there. So, she’d been shoulder to shoulder with me for, I guess, even before we were married. That was probably three years before that, and then we’ll be married 29 years come September. So, she’s been doing this work for 30 something years. So, she’s really a lot of the backbone, the power behind the throne, if you will.

David Allen: And a lot of her work is the yeoman’s task of getting all the materials and graphics and all the support material, and making sure the quality control and all of that stuff. I’m kind of out there, the ta-da guy. But, she’s the one who really makes sure that all that stuff works.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Doing all the real work. No, I’m just kidding.

David Allen: The real work. Yeah. So, she’s been a great partner.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for what you’ve done for me and everyone else who follows the Getting Things Done methodology and workflow. And everyone should go to gettingthingsdone.com. Check out everything that they have going on, and I want to be the first one… David, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

David Allen: Jeremy, thanks for the invitation. It’s been fun.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown Podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want at tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and/or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up. Go to sweetprocess.com. Sweet like candy, and process like process.com. Go now to sweetprocess.com and sign up for your risk free 14-day trial.

Get Your Free Systemization Checklist

Systemize Checklist
5 Essential Steps To Getting a Task Out of Your Head and Into a System So You Can Scale and Grow Your Business!
Stop being the bottleneck in your company

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *