David Allen is widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on personal and organizational productivity. He is the author of Getting Things Done and has shown millions of people how to transform their overwhelming lives into a relaxed and more productive one. Listen to David’s popular personal and organizational productivity methodology and how it has helped successful leaders all over the world.
Organizational Productivity, Creating Space, Getting Altitude with David Allen
With me today is David Allen described by Fast Company as one of the world’s most influential thinkers especially in terms of organizational productivity. He’s an author, consultant, international lecturer, founder, and chairman of the David Allen Company, which is an organizational productivity training and consulting company that provides services designed to increase performance, capacity, and aligned execution. They count, among their clients, some of the world’s most prestigious corporations, including over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies. So, welcome to the show, David.
Mark, happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
So, I should say, I first discovered your book on organizational productivity, “Getting Things Done“, which has sold over 3 million copies, soon after it was published. In 2002, I discovered it and I have to say it had a huge impact on my capacity levels and my overall ability to get results and a few years later, I brought it into Syngenta, which is based here in Switzerland, in 2008. My boss, David, he described it as the best ROI he’d ever seen in terms of executive education and improvement in organizational productivity. So, can you describe the approach for our audience of intrapreneurs and executives and why do you think it works and it’s so powerful?
Sure. Keep any potentially meaningful thing you can’t finish when you think of it out of your head in a trusted bucket. Empty that bucket as soon as you can, deciding what’s the next action and what are the outcomes involved in any of these things you’ve captured. Organize the results in a trusted system with appropriate categories so you can step back and easily review and reflect on the whole gestalt or inventory of all your commitments at all different horizons so that, then, you make trusted, intuitive choices about what you do moment to moment.
Why that matters to these people? Oh, my god. That’s the only way you can survive in the world of entrepreneurism wearing 65 billion hats, having your world change on you in minute to minute or whatever and you better have the skill set in order to be able to surf that wave.
The methodology you developed has got it’s roots in lots of different areas. Tell us your sort of creation myth or organizational productivity, if you like. How did you land on this methodology and what led up to it?
Well, I love clear space. I found that in my spiritual practices, my martial arts practices, whatever, that when four people jump you in a dark alley, don’t have 2,000 unprocessed emails in your backlog. You’re not ready for stuff if you’ve got a whole bunch of unprocessed things that are potentially meaningful to you that you haven’t appropriately
engaged with. So, being in a clear space was something I was very attracted to early on and then as I got into my consulting game, just helping friends start their own businesses and I didn’t have any particular business I wanted to do. I just like to help people improve their condition and their life. So I was a good number two guy so I helped a lot of people with their own businesses and then I started to discover that the techniques I was learning about how to keep my clear space as my life got more complex turned around and they worked exactly the same way for everybody I was coaching and working with.
So, I began to develop and sort of cobble together, if you will. Actually, I didn’t make it up. I just uncovered these best practices and started to make them more explicit and more usable with real techniques and real principles and real behaviors that you can do because you’re not born doing it. You didn’t hop out of your mom and go, “Hi, mom. What exactly are we trying to accomplish and what’s the next action? Is that yours or mine?” You know, that’s a learned behavior but that’s a key element to how you surf on top of your world by defining what are these commitments I have. What is the work I’ve committed to do? What are all the would, could, should, need to’s that I’ve accumulated for myself, personally and internally, and if you don’t get a handle on that, that will eat you alive.
Yeah. I mean, I’m curious because Getting Things Done has been very popular on the west coast with tech companies and, obviously, technology companies are built on innovation and the ability of their teams and their leaders to continue to innovate and have this organizational productivity. So, many of our listeners, David, are entrepreneurs or executives responsible for innovation and they’re thinking about disruption quite a lot as well. So, how does the system if indeed, that’s the right way of describing it. I think it’s called a system. How does it work in the context of innovation and, secondly, and related to that, where does synchronicity fit in? Because, clearly, that is a key ingredient of the creative process.
Well, my system that I uncovered creates space. How you use that space is up to you. But, go try to be innovative if you’ve got three weeks worth of unfinished and incomplete and problems on your mind and 2,000 emails hanging in your in-basket. Just go try to be innovative. Just go. Good luck. You don’t have room. You don’t need time; you need room. How much time does it take to have a good idea? Zero. How does time does it take to be innovative or have a creative thought? Zero. How much time does it take to be loving and just be present with your kids when you tuck them into bed or watch them play soccer or football? Zero. Those do not require time and yet those are the most important things you’re talking about. They don’t require time; they require room. Room where, while mentally, psychically, spiritually, I don’t know. Whatever you want to call that, it’s called a thing that when you have incomplete stuff that you’re not appropriately engaged with, a room that that’s taking up inside your head and inside your psyche and your emotions, that’s going to very much limit your ability to be creative, innovative, and all that other stuff.
So, if I gave anybody listening to this, what if you have three days of nothing pulling on your mind. Nothing, zero. You had nothing on your psyche pulling on you at all. How would you use it? What would you do? What would you think about? By the way, nobody ever went out to be innovative. People just went out to solve things and they wound up with the innovative solutions. I mean, come on, Mark, take ten seconds to be innovative. Duh. What are you going to? It’s like you don’t go out to be a leader. People just happen to be leaders because of their behaviors. You don’t go out to be innovative. You just are innovative because of how you function, how you focus your consciousness on trying to solve problems or move the lever on important things. So, you don’t go out to try to do those things. What you need is the room to sort of follow your intuitive hunches and synchronicity, absolutely. Sure. What I say is you need to get clear space so you can then trust your intuitive judgments about what you do.
So, if we could get specific here. I know you’ve moved from the west coast but predating back to when you were coaching, for instance say, a successful executive in a tech company, (can you) paint a picture of their day, We had a conversation with a previous guest where they were building into the rhythms of their day, blank space and not putting big meetings back to back. I mean, is it as simple as that? What does worldclass behavior, using your system, actually look like in a very, very intense technology based environment, for instance? Can you just paint a picture of that?
Yeah, it looks a little bit different for every person depending upon their style but I’m working with a client right now a CEO of one of the Unicorns that got a billion dollars in startup funds and he’s a madman and he’s just all over the map and what he needs is room and so, building in room so he’s not just totally driven by latest and loudest in terms of his consciousness, which is brilliant stuff, by the way. But he needs room to step back and make sure that’s not coming from a micro level but he can see things from a larger perspective. So, altitude is the critical thing that all of those people need.
So, how do you build altitude? Well, you’re right. You need some blank time to build in. First of all, it takes an hour a day, at least, to just deal with the new stuff coming in, to get that under control and not have it pile up in the backlog. So, you need white space on your calendar just to deal with the new emails, new meeting notes, new thoughts you wake up with, et cetera, and to deal with those in the GTD process called what is it? Is it actionable? What’s the next action? What outcome am I committed to? What’s my project balance? Which is the executive thinking process that you need to apply to this stuff that shows up in your world, and then at least once a week, you need to build in a two hour window where we do what we call “the weekly review” where you back off and manage the forest instead of hugging the trees. You need to step back and take a look at all of these things that you’re engaged with, all the hats that you’re wearing and see it from a higher perspective.
Obviously, reviewing your strategic plan, reviewing your life purpose, reviewing your ideal scene of where you want to be five years from now in terms of career and lifestyle. Sure, all that’s good stuff too but, for most part, operationally, what most people need is the “I need to get room” on a daily, daily basis. So, that weekly review, I think it’s the most critical thing, Mark, for people to start to build in that they’re not doing. It’s the biggest need out there for executives. I mean, I worked with a lot of executive development heads of the executive development and large corporations and they said, “Low reflection time is the biggest lack in our executives,” that they don’t stop and take the time to sit back and close the door and think at a higher level of gain.
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting you said because, David, I’ve fallen on and off the wagon many times since I first discovered the book but the one thing that has remained in my calendar for 10, probably 12 years is actually a 1 until 3 pm slot on a Friday for the weekly review and it’s hugely powerful. I’m not sure if I’m doing it as well as I should do but I mean, it’s an anchor for all sorts of other activities. It drives lots of stuff, I guess.
God, Mark, I was like, “Wow, I should give you a trophy.” There are few people on the planet that have been willing to build that in and I go, “God, if you don’t that…” If you do that, you can make it all work. If you don’t do that, none of it works because you glue it together when you step back and look at it from a larger perspective.
But you’re also saying this guy, the Unicorn CEO, there’s a daily piece as well just getting on top of the day. Is that the second plank of this process, would you think, or is it ?
Well, it’s a holistic model, come on. You need to have as small of a backlog as you can on stuff that is potentially meaningful to you in terms of deciding and being appropriately engaged with all of it. What is it? What’s the next step? How does this fit? Where does this fit in the mix of all my stuff? What map does that need to go in, in terms of stuff I need to look at. So, that kind of thinking requires thinking space and you can’t do that just being wall-to-wall, meeting to meeting to meeting. You can’t do that. You’re collecting meeting notes, you’re collecting all kinds of things and not only that, all kinds of things. When you sit down and review what happened at your board meeting, you’re going to go, “Oh, that reminds me and that tells me I need to do blank.”
And, many times, the people listening to this are some of the more creative folks and, interestingly, the people who are most attracted to my work on organizational productivity are the people who need it the least. They’re already the most aspirational, productive, positive, organized people you’d ever know, you’d ever meet. But they’re just aware of, “Oh my god, there is so much more room that I need to be able to do things better, see it from a better perspective and not burn out in terms of what I’m doing.”
I mean, there was that great blog post up a few weeks ago where you were talking to a highly successful CEO who everyone knew in the industry as a guy who gets stuff done and yet, I guess he recognized that, in order to play a different game or a new game, if you like, he needed to get tuned up by you to create some more space for, I guess, a new horizon of activity.
Exactly. It’s the fastest people that are most aware of drag on their systems and, therefore, pay most attention to, “What do I need to do to relieve drag and pressure on my system so I have more room to do what I’m aspirationally inspired to do?”
I guess the term, “drag”, that relates back to the subtitle of your first book, which is “The Art of Stressfree Productivity”. Can you just say a little bit more about the stressfree piece to this?
Sure. Most of the stress comes from breaking agreements with yourself. You tell yourself, “I need cat food,” and you don’t organize yourself to get cat food at the appropriate time sorry. You just denigrated your ability to be fully present with anything you’re doing. So, you’re not keeping an agreement. You’re not appropriately engaged. Here’s the big secret, Mark. Getting things done is not about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with every commitment you have in your life so that those things are not pulling on your psyche and you can be totally present with whatever you’re doing. So, that’s the master key. So you don’t have to go very far. I just go, “Hey, Mark, what’s on your mind? What’s on your mind, Mark, and why is that on your mind?” and the reason that’s on your mind is probably because there are decisions you haven’t made or result in some trusted systems where it’s on cruise control.
So, I just figured out that algorithm about how you identify the stuff that’s pulling on your psyche and what do you need to do? It’s not free. You don’t get a clear head by meditating and drinking. I know. I do them both for different reasons but that’s not what clears your head. What clears your head is taking those things and deciding exactly, “Excuse me. What does this mean to me? What am I going to do about it? What’s the very next action step?” and then part that thinking had no results of that as terms of reminders and to a system that’s on cruise control. So, everybody listening to this has important stuff that’s not on their mind and reason is it’s because it’s on cruise control. There’s nothing pulling on them and pinching on them, no poking at their psyche about it.
The things that are on your mind: “Oh god, I need to increase my credit line, I need to get cat food, I need to get a life, I need to hire an assistant.” Most people are clueless about how many things they’ve actually committed to internally and so when you have any of those would, could, should, need to’s, ought to’s and you embed those internally, you can fool me but you can’t fool yourself for a second because a part of you that knows you’re not yet appropriately engaged in something you think you need to change or so something about it or consider or decide. So, that’s where all the pressure’s coming from and so I just figure out a way to both identify those things and what you need to do to take pressure off and those are the decisions and the thought process that GTD basically lined up and identified.
The weekly review, just for listeners, the first step in that is to get all those things out of your mind onto a piece of paper, which is, I think is that fair to characterize the first step of the weekly review?
Yeah. That’s pretty crude but that’d be the first thing.
Okay, and I’ve got my systems guides-
And by the way, the next thing will be look at your freaking calendar for the last week and catch all the OSes. “Oh shoot, that reminds me. I need to. Oh my god, I need to,” and then look at the next two or three weeks on your calendar coming up, you’re going, “Oh god, I better ” or the come on, this ain’t rocket science here unless you’re building rockets but this is like, “Duh, why don’t you get a grip on your life from a little higher perspective than just being driven by the latest thing or the latest ding on your iPhone?”
As you say that, it resonates so much today because you refer to the iPhone and the fact that there is so many different sources of things vying for your attention versus when you started out on this journey. Are you finding that this resonates more and more with people or is it just a timeless approach that’s relevant irrespective of where you are in history and how connected you are to technology?
Yes, its both. You know, the technology and the methodology is timeless. How many people need it because of how many things the stress of opportunity. It’s really the stress of opportunity. Ken Blanchard took my seminar one day and he said, “Oh my god, what you’ve handled is the stress of opportunity. I have so many possibilities of things that I could do,” and that’s where a lot of the stress is coming from. In a way, you relax if I throw you into crisis. If I suddenly blow your tire on the freeway, you don’t worry about your taxes or getting cat food or getting a life. You’re focused on surviving, right? So, you actually move into your zone, you get highly productive, you get, in a sense, very clear. You could actually handle that really well and you feel fabulous when you get home. Even though you’re stressed, it’s kind of like “working out” stress.
So, interestingly, the fact is that there’s so many opportunities now of potentially meaningful input. Your mom is now WhatsApping you. “Oh my god, you have you want to send your kids to what class? Well, how many ofthose kind of classes you’re going on in my city? Well, let me go surf the web and see. Oh my god, look at all that.” I mean, the infinite rabbit trails and rabbit holes you’re going to run down and in are that’s what the web has done is sort of opened up all those possibilities for you to, potentially, distract yourself and also potentially to have a lot of fun. It kind of depends on where you are against that. I mean, don’t shoot the medium. My god. I’ve lived my life on emails since 1983. That’s how I run my company; that’s how I built my career. So I can’t shoot that medium. Oh my god. The fact that I’m sitting here talking to you. I’m in Amsterdam watching the sun kind of get a little lower on a burgeoning spring here, a great fabulous day here, and the reason I can do that is because we’re connected with this technology and that we can do that. So, it’s almost like if you know what you’re doing then it’s a great time to be alive. If you don’t, you’re toast.
Interesting. So, one of the things that struck me in a recent conversation you had with Robyn Scott, the British entrepreneur, the social entrepreneur, this idea of the emotional content or the emotional outcomes associated with projects because there are a lot of Millennials who are wanting to bring their dreams to work, like they want to find far more purpose than just the steady paycheck. I’m curious, what resonated with you with that kind of concept that Robyn put out there and related to that, I guess, how is your thinking around the methodology evolving over time?
Well, first of all, Robyn is fabulous. I love Robyn. She’s incredible and I interviewed her and I loved her idea and some of her creative ways of trying to organize her work and prioritize it appropriately. So, yeah, couldn’t agree more that well, I’ll back up and say, look, the principles are universal. Get stuff out of your head. Your head’s a crappy office. Anything that is only resident in your head, you’ll screw it up. You’ll give it more attention than it deserves or not as much attention as it deserves. So, period. That would be true 100 years from now and it’s true now.
How you get stuff out of your head and then how do you review and reflect on it in this appropriate way so some part of you doesn’t feel angst about what you’re doing or what you’re not doing, that’s very much up to you. You know, I’ve given people the model about what you need to do and what you need to keep track of, where you keep track of it, how you keep track of it, it’s quite independent to you. You know, I have four different lists of my own personal system that have to do with being at the computer. So, contacts, I talk about contacts called, “Hey, there’s no need to keep track of stuff you need to do when you can’t do them so it’s nice to organize them like contacts,” so once I’m in a place where, “Show me all the things I can do where I am right now,” and where I am right now could be physical, it could be what tools do I have, and it could be what psychological state I’m in.
So, any of that’s perfectly fine. I have a list on my computer called “creative stuff I need to do on my computer” that I spun off of my just computer list because those things were like they started to weigh heavy on me when I looked at that big list of things I needed to do on my computer and a lot of those were things I needed time to think about and be reflective of or forward. Somebody has to write their own book, a blog, I need to write an essay, I needed to edit, and so forth and I don’t do those at my desk. I do those in EasyChair; I do those on my couch. So, I discovered that if I separate those out into different contacts of reminders, it took the weight off of both those lists and I got a lot more of them done.
So, it’s really more about just sort of understanding how I need to feed back to myself, the commitments I have in my life, what I need to do about them and that’s quite individual. There’s no template for that. I’ve changed mine over the years. I keep changing mine as my life changes, as my work changes, as the definition of what I do changes, how I do that. But what will be universal is it’s all out of my head, I’ve decided the next actions, I’ve decided projects in bed in those, and I’ve parked those reminders in appropriate places that I will reflect on and see at the right time. That won’t change so that’s the GTD methodology but again, that looks like a lot of different things and Robyn, Robyn’s a great and fabulous lady.
So, David, switching gears a little bit I have a question about your business model if you don’t mind. A lot of our audience are involved in exploring new business models, new ways to achieve organizational productivity, new technologies, new ways of interacting with their customers and, I guess, your business model, I think, has recently changed as you’ve moved across from the west coast of the US to the Netherlands and you’re, I think, moving to the franchise model. I just wondered, can you just talk through that evolution of your business model and what led up to it, if you like?
Well, I have to give an apology because I’m not sort of an aspirational, entrepreneurial, hightech startup, make-a-gazillion-dollars kind of guy. That has never been a real driver of mine. I’ve been, primarily, an educator. So, at some point, my wife and I decided, “Look, once my book got published in 2001 and it was successful,” I had the opportunity to just keep this very small and just me, just do keynote speaking and whatever around the book and itself. But the world was just knocking on our door. It’s like, “Oh my god, David, this is incredible stuff. Can I do this in Zimbabwe? Can I be your rep in Japan? Can I whatever because it is the universal model. Not only that, it produces value for anybody and there’s no cultural bias, there’s no gender bias, there’s no age bias, there’s no energy bias for this methodology.” It’s just that no matter who embodies it or implements it improves their conditions. They feel more in control and more focused and we said, “I can’t hold this back from the planet.”
So I said, “Okay, let’s try to figure out how to do that,” so we said, “Well, partnerships and technology were the only way to really scale in this education if we wanted to do it.” Long story short, so we wound up I didn’t know how to build a global franchise model but the people who did the Franklin Covey franchise model globally came to us and said, “Hey, how about we do that for you?” and so we said, “Okay.” So we partnered with them and so we now built franchises because they figured out how to do that business. They knew how to do that businesswise, legalwise, whatever. Man, that’s much bigger gum than I knew how to chew so I didn’t have the capability or resources to do that. I mean, my wife and I just have a little small business, a little self funded because we wanted to keep high control on the quality of what we were doing.
So, that was always our prime driver of what it was about and these guys showed up and they mapped our DNA and now we started to build a global network of people who have been attracted to our work on personal and organizational productivity so that we’ve now building exclusive franchisees. I think we have 24 specific franchisees that cover 60 countries right now. So, that’s happened in the last two or three years and we’ve been refining a global curriculum of our organizational productivity training program so that at least I could do it.
But that’s the long depth the long, long, long game in terms of a lot of these guys are just startups in terms of their business and their consulting and training in their regions and their countries and getting this translated into their languages, et cetera. So, we figured that we’re hoping for a hockey stick on this at some point that it pays off in the end game. But, quite frankly, it’s fun. It’s nice to be seeing this sort of being spread around the world. Nice to be in Amsterdam because, man, this is much more in the center of the world than Santa Barbara was. So, I’ll be in Moscow, I’ll be in Baku, Azerbaijan, I’ll be in London, I’ll be in Oslo and so this is kind of a neat place to be more sort of global centric than the US was.
Yeah, thanks for that. So, I’ve got a couple of questions from our listeners because there’s quite a lot of people who are keen to hear that I was talking to you on organizational productivity and such. So, one of them is from a friend of mine, Neil, and his question I think we’ve touched a little bit on it, but let’s make it explicit. So, he’s just come out of a well scheduled sort of corporate environment with a reasonably established rhythm of work. He’s now independent, he’s got multiple projects, multiple priorities that are shifting, given who he’s working with, the different hats he’s wearing as an entrepreneur. I mean, this is rather like me actually. It is Neil but it also applies a bit to me. David, you know, I’m an advisor, I’m a board member, I’m an aspiring author. So, within that very fluid environment which we’ve come out moved towards out of the structured corporate environment, what’s the best way to maintain a kind of rhythm and a routine in this environment? I mean, notwithstanding, you can carve out the Friday afternoon but what about the maelstrom of activities that hit throughout the rest of the week? How does one anchor one’s self to a process in that kind of environment? Any advice?
Yeah. Come on, Mark. You could give that advice. It’s called the weekly review.
I know, but apart from that. To get you to-
No, no. There is no apart from that. I mean, once a week, I think and then I’ll hardwire my intuitive intelligence because I don’t have time to think during the week nor does anybody who listens to this. You need to have already thought. So you need to have some sort of internal register, internal barometer so that you can make quick decisions as they’re flying at you during the week. But you could only trust that you’re doing that if you’re doing a thorough version of every seven days sitting back and looking at the higher game and making sure you’re not missing anything and sort of, as I was saying, hardwiring your intuitive intelligence. So, that’s the master key to this. I mean, quite frankly and practically, what I do the night before is look at my calendar and say, “What’s the hard landscape? What will die if I don’t do it tomorrow?” So, knowing that I’m talking to you at this time was part of that and then I got to go, “Okay, what are all the other stuff that I might need to do this week or that day if I have any time at all?” and that’s pretty clear to me.
So, I don’t spend a lot of time on that but it’s just making sure you’re looking at the right maps. Come on, I’m an ex-sailor. Anybody who’s ever sailed a boat, you have maps down in your map room and you better pick out which map do you want to look at? You want a map of the world so that you’re heading for Hawaii instead of Alaska or do you need a map for the harbor that you’re trying to get out so you don’t hit a rock? So, you need to figure out which map you need to look at when and you need to make sure that the maps that you have are full of the right content. If you look at your calendar, that’s a map. It tells you where you need to be when and if you look at a list of all the phone calls you need to make, that’s a map of things you need to do when I have time and have a phone.
So, building the appropriate orientation maps is really the master key to organizational productivity and all of this so that all the maps with those contents so that your brain is not trying to do that. Your brain is not wired to do that. It didn’t develop to do that. It’s a shitty office. Come on. Stuff is in your head. You will be driven by latest and loudest. I’ve never seen any except I’m 70 years old and in the last 35 years I’ve been doing this work, I’ve never seen an exception of that. You keep stuff in your head; it’s the wrong place and you will be inappropriately engaged with your life. So, a lot of this is just building the external brain and then getting all of these things out of your head in appropriate places and then building the appropriate maps. That’s probably a longer answer than what you asked about.
No, but as you said, organizational productivity is all about the weekly review and you gave a couple of lovely examples of what that analogy is. So, Neil’s got that one, I’m sure. So, one for Maggie. What’s the best way to renegotiate your agreements? Any advice on that? I mean, agreements either with yourself but also with others as well, right?
Yeah, and we’ll clarify what your agreements are. Most people haven’t done that so that’s the first step. The second step is make sure you keep track of who you made that agreement with, review that regularly and see if you need to renegotiate it and don’t wait until it blows up to renegotiate the agreement. Keep it on a regular conversation as you might need to do that before the heat gets too hot.
Fair enough, and then the final one we touched on this, again is around the technology, David. This is my question. Is technology an enabler or is it a hindrance to personal or organizational productivity because there is so much tech to support getting things done different collection mechanisms and stuff. You touched on you got lists on your computer but does it get in the way of organizational productivity or is paper still the answer? How do you look at that particular problem? Or does it depend on the individual.
You know, everybody is very different about all that and collection is very different than organizing. So I collect lowtech so pen and paper is my way to collect ideas, thoughts, things I needed in process and then I throw those into my physical intray and then I decide next actions and what I need to do, if there’s any project embedded and once I make those decisions, those go into my digital world.
So, yeah, I just have a list manager. So, any list manager can work. You can use Evernote, you can use Outlook, you can use Lotus Notes, you can use OmniFocus. I mean, there’s a guide out there, 3 or 4 hundred apps that have been built on GTD organizational productivity model out there and they’re basically just list managers with different bells and whistles. So, any of those can work.
If you know the organizational productivity methodology, any of it works. You can make any of it work. If you don’t know the methodology, you can keep looking for the next new, next new, next new, next new, next new thing that’s going to fit you and I’m sorry, none of it will if you don’t know what to do with it. So, once you understand the organizational productivity methodology, again, any kind of list manager can work that and I know a lot of hightech who like the paper planners now just because it’s more functional for how their brain works, it’s more obvious to them, it’s more in their face, they like the touch and feel of it, they like to able to mark stuff off visually and see it, and it’s easier to see in the larger context of all your stuff in a visual paper planner mode than it is on your computer. So, you’ve got to be very disciplined with this methodology to make the computer tools work, otherwise, you’ll still be driven by the brightest bulb or latest louds.
Yeah, interesting. So, David, beginning to wrap this up on organizational productivity . I sent you three questions. First question, what are your morning rituals, please?
I wake up and depends on whether the dog scratches our door, whether I have to take her out first or whether I have my lemon juice I squeeze I have the lemon, enjoy a glass of water, and drink that just to cleanse the system. So, that’s the first thing I do. Well, one or the other. So, I don’t know which is first. It depends on the morning. Then I have a French press. If my wife is here, we French press a cup of great coffee, locally roasted here, naturally, and just fabulous. I nurse on that while I glance at the international version of the New York Times. I look at the weather for Amsterdam and where I might be going in the next day or two and then I will play a few games of Words with Friends just to get my brain sort of cranked up while I’m drinking my coffee.
Obviously, I look at my calendar just to make sure when do I need to be awake by. I sleep as long as I can. I’m one of those people I thought I was just lazy but now, given the cognitive science that I’ve discovered, that’s actually smart. Sleep is a very good thing for your cognitive process. I’m not a wake-up-early-jump-up-and-do-jumping-jacks kind of guy.
You’ve touched on something. I don’t want to open it up again but it does seem that there is a lot of scientific thinking is now coming out that validates the robustness of the whole system of getting things done, right?
Yeah, it is. Hey, external brain, your brain was designed to manage about four things that you couldn’t finish when you thought of them and that’s about how it evolved and be able to deal with that because, in order to live on the Savannah and to be able to eat and not be eaten, you pretty much just needed to just handle about four things. “Hey, is the tiger up there potentially in? I got a rip in my coat and my kid’s crying and I need to make a fire,” and that’s about it. That’s about all your brain was designed to do really well. It’s actually designed brilliantly to recognize, “Oh, there could be a tiger up there. Oh, there’s a fire. Oh, there’s a kid.”
Your brain is brilliant at recognizing patterns. It sucks at remembering anything or reminding yourself of anything. I mean, you’re brilliant right now with looking around your environment where you are and knowing what all those things mean and what they are to you because that’s a very present to us thing. But you forgot where you left your keys. So your brain was not designed it didn’t evolve to be able to handle keeping track of all this stuff and especially, it didn’t evolve to have to decide what to do about all that stuff right away. It has the capability of doing that but that requires an intelligent and an intuitive process to actually be applied to it. It doesn’t happen automatically.
Yeah, so the cognitive science just said, “Look, your brain sucks as a place to hold stuff.” So, as I say, your head’s for having ideas but not for holding. So, if you can kind of get that and all of its implications, that’s really all the system is about.
So, the next question, what have you changed your mind about recently?
How long it takes people to get this. I thought so many people read the book, they go, “I got it there,” and there are a lot of people who get it right away and then there are a lot of people reading it, “Oh god, yeah, he’s probably right but I don’t do this. I should do it but I don’t.” So, understanding sort of the next issue for us as a business and my mission in terms of how do I get this onto the planet so the planet really functions from a no problem but only project focus then, wow, that’s a big game and I don’t know how to do that. My expertise is not in both instructional design or motivational speaking or in training in terms of how do people change behaviors. You know, there are people much better than I am at that.
So, I guess what I’ve changed my mind about is that just because I created the model about what the best practices are and how they all fit together doesn’t mean that people are naturally and automatically going to get it.
Yeah, I think you said that there’s something in it for everyone but it’s not for everyone. I think I heard you use that expression. So, I mean, it doesn’t always land with people or it takes a lot of number of iterations, perhaps, before it gets there. But, in your experience, are there some people who just don’t get it, irrespective of how hard you worked to help them, particularly in your organizational productivity coaching?
Oh, most people. I mean, come on, there’s 7 billion people on the planet; I’ve only sold 3 million books. That’s a lot of potential out there and a lot of people have my book on organizational productivity sitting on their shelf. They still haven’t read it yet but it’s one of the books they just need to have on their shelves and even if they read the book, there comes the bad news is I put everything in there so that everybody will feel not ignorant but a lot of people feel overwhelmed when they look at it and read it and say, “Oh my god, that’s just too much work to do. It’s not worth it.” So, I just have that issue to deal with. Most people are comfortable with their uncomfortableness in their life.
Well, yeah. I mean, it works up to a point, I guess. But, yeah, as you said, your addressable market is not insignificant. So, what advice would you have for your 25 year old self, David?
Relax. You know, my 25 year old self oh my god, when I was 25, Jesus, I was thinking back. When was I 25? It was the 1970s, 71. They put me in the mental institution and I got a black belt in karate so there’s kind of the couple of extremes of me exploring focus and the inner life and what you do with all that and my discomfort with the world and how it was organized and how do I sort of create my cooperative engagement with it. So, my advice back then would be relax, learn what you need to learn from all these experiences and trust that you’re going to come out okay.
Good advice. That is, you know it’s not inconsistent advice from a lot of my guests so far, actually, who reflect on maybe being a little bit more frantic or a little bit sort of in too much of a hurry back in those days where they were younger. So, where can people get in touch with you, David?
gettingthingsdone.com, our website. You got a lot of stuff you can explore and play around with in there.
We’ve got listeners all over the place. Your franchise is expanding all over the place so there’s plenty, I would imagine, of potential opportunities to participate in organizational productivity seminars or get closer to you.
Yeah, we’re yeah, a lot of our folks are doing public seminars around the world. So, go to our website and you’ll see seminars and organizational productivity services and you’ll see where those are growing all over the world. Yeah, come on in. The water’s fine.
So, it’s been a great pleasure having you on the show today, David. I’m sure our audience has enjoyed it as much as I did and thank you very much for your time and for your insights on organizational productivity.
Mark, this was fun. Thank you for inviting me. Enjoy.
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