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10X Your Productivity with David Allen

May 12, 2022

In todays episode I chat to productivity expert - David Allen. David is the creator of the epic Time Management method known as “Getting Things Done”.
He is also the founder of the “David Allen Company”, an executive coaching firm that uses his GTD framework and methodology. David is also a best-selling author, with 3 books under his belt. 
After decades of in-the-field research and practice of his productivity methods, David wrote the international best-seller Getting Things Done. Published in over 28 languages, TIME magazine heralded it as “the defining self-help business book of its time.”
David is passionate about productivity. Over 2 million people have been introduced to the GTD method and have made massive changes in their lives. David has started a productivity movement on a global scale.

 My top take aways from this interview were:

  1. Ambient anxiety creates the subliminal stress that most professionals endure. Ambient anxiety is in the background. It's constant and never goes away. David attributes this to the fact that we don't empty our heads. We carry around our to-do list in our head. Get that out of your head, and onto the page. 
  2. Focus on your breathing to get present. This isn't rocket science, yet so many of us neglect breath work and the impact it can have on our wellbeing. Focus on the present. 
  3. Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. Make time to empty your head and use your brain space for creativity. 



Full Transcription 


David Allen, James Laughlin 


James Laughlin 00:00 

Welcome to lead on purpose. I'm James Laughlin, former seven-time world champion musician, and now an executive coach to global leaders and high performers. In every episode, I bring you an inspiring leader or expert to help you lead your life and business on purpose. Thanks for taking the time to connect today on investing in yourself. Enjoy the show. 


James Laughlin 00:39 

David Allen is considered the leading authority in the fields of organizational and personal productivity. Time Magazine heralded his book as the defining self-help business book of its time. If you want to talk about productivity, let's do it! Sit back and enjoy the show. 


James Laughlin 01:12 

David, a huge welcome to The Lead on Purpose Podcast. 


David Allen 01:16 

Thanks, James, thanks for the invitation. 


James Laughlin 01:20 

So great to connect with you. As I said to you before we hit record there, I was really brought to your work by a friend of mine in Brisbane, she was so impressed with GTD and what it's done for her life. And she said James, A, you've got to buy the book. And B, you've got to talk to David, you've got to get him on the show. So an absolute pleasure to create some space here for us to have a chat. Yeah, let's go. Let's have some fun around this GTD. So, for people who are listening right now, those leaders that are listening, if somebody's listening, going, hey, I've got so much on my plate, spinning lots of plates, I'm struggling with productivity. I spent all their money now, in one sentence, how could GTD help them? 


David Allen 02:01 

It'll give you more room. What you do with that room is going to be unique to you. You might want to use the room to be more creative, be more strategic to be more of service to be more present with whatever it is that you're doing. You don't need time. There's no more time is it's an important factor. But you can't change the time you can, you know mismanage five minutes and come up with six or four and a half. It's what are you doing? What are you doing with yourself during those five minutes? Time management is a bit of a hoax, I call it time management. So, you don't have to be embarrassed by so I need help and manage them myself. But that's what it is. How do I manage what I'm doing? So, I feel comfortable about what I'm doing, and maybe more importantly comfortable about what I'm not doing. And that's a lot of what this methodology is about is getting you comfortable that right now James is talking to me is exactly what you need to be doing on the planet, you're not missing anything else. Nothing's falling through a crack. Right? So that's what my stuff is about. It's about how I get rid of the distractions to create more psychic space or cognitive space to use however, I might want to use that. 


James Laughlin 03:12 

That's beautiful. And so, you're getting rid of all that noise, all that extraneous noise getting focused on the one thing that you need to be doing right now. 


David Allen 03:20 

Well, the biggest issue most people have is not so much overwhelmed. If you were overwhelmed, you'd fix it. And if you're building caught on fire right now, you'd handle it. The biggest issue is what I now the label is ambient anxiety. You're willing to tolerate being waked up at three o'clock in the morning with the OSS, oh, shoot, I show them or what happened or whatever. And there's that ambient anxiety that's actually creating this sort of subliminal stress that's underlying most everything. Most people, most busy people anyway. And professionals are enduring. And it's keeping them from being as creative and as strategic as present as they could be. 


James Laughlin 04:01 

Do you think that's a new thing? Is that in the last couple of decades? Or has this always been part of the human mind? 


David Allen 04:07 

It's always been true for knowledge workers. You know, the late great Peter Drucker sort of identified knowledge workers where you actually have to think to figure out what your work is. The email doesn't show up and says, I'm junk email toss me. You actually, you actually have to look at it, read it. Go that's, junk email, delete. Yeah. So, you actually have to think to figure out what to do. And so that's knowledge work. As soon as knowledge work showed up out there 100 years ago, maybe where people actually, 150 years ago or whatever 90% of the workforce just made it move things. So, if you show up, and there's stuff to be made or stuff to be moved, it was obvious how to spend your day. Now, Taylor and other people said, okay, you can more efficiently make and move stuff. So, there were these sorts of external have models that were then created, you know, 100 years ago, over the last, you know, 100 years anyway, that sort of improved that all the way up to Scrum and Agile and Six Sigma and you know, all those different kinds of external models about how do I get more efficient about how I manage the flow of work, but it doesn't help you define what the work is. So, as soon as knowledge work sort of showed up on the scene, where you actually had to think to figure out what to do, it wasn't so obvious. And then you started to have more and more things you had to think about, about what I need to do about it. That's where this probably began, you know, the first edition of getting things done was published in 2001. I wrote it between 1997 and 2001, when it was published, it was really targeted at the fast-track professional, because they were the people first getting hit with the tsunami of email and organizational change and flattened organizations, and, you know, all that stuff. And so, they were the hungriest audience actually, for what I had come up with, to be able to serve on top of that game and not feel buried by it. So, I think that's what's happened in the last two or three decades, is, nothing's different in terms of the methodology or how to be productive, it's about, the speed and volume of inputs that you have, and the change in the audience. In the second edition, I wrote in 2015, was, the methodology didn't change in terms of what I wrote in there, but the audience did. Now I knew back in when I was doing these 1000s of hours of coaching, you know, from 1982, when I started this game, I knew it worked for positions for state-owned dads, for students, for the clergy, all these people within and once they ran across my stuff, and started to use it if they had a busy life, it improved their condition, improve their life. So, I knew that it worked. But again, in the first edition, the book was not targeted for that group, it was targeted for the, again, the fast-track professional, because they were the ones most hungry for it and could pay for it. And I was thrust into the corporate training world with my stuff and spent 1000s of hours, my consulting practice turned more into coaching one on one deskside, with the executives that ran across my stuff that wanted hands-on, you know, work with this, as your friend. And so, it's been a lot of hours, you know, dealing with the best and brightest folks in the world, applying this methodology. So, what So what's happened is the expanse, it used to be 10% of the professional force, probably really needed this to stay sane. Now, 90%. That's a big change, you know, it because, you know, bosses, if you have a boss, if you're not at a sort of a self-organizing organization like I am, but if you actually have a boss and a hierarchy, whatever, they don't have time to hold your hand, they don't have time to tell you what to do. They don't have time to track, you know, whatever that you need to be doing. They need to track what they've given you. You know, which most of them aren't doing, it's creating a lot of their stress. And so yeah, things have sped up, and the audience has expanded. That's what's changed, I think, James in the last couple of decades. 


James Laughlin 08:34 

And what actually got you for the very first edition, what got you started on the GTD methodology? What inspired you to actually put it together? 


David Allen 08:44 

Accident? Almost, really, you know, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I was going to be an academic, I was studying intellectual history, you know, in graduate school, then decided I wanted my own enlightenment, not just studying people out there. So, I dropped out of graduate school and went on a self-exploration, you know, this is, you know, making 68 Berkeley, right? So, these are heady times for self-development and all that stuff. And so, I jump head-on into a sort of personal growth and self-awareness and all that. So, meditation, spiritual practices, you know, miscellaneous gurus here and there, and martial arts, you know, kind of black belt in karate in my 20s. And a lot of that sort of gave me a sense of the value of clear space. Certainly, in the martial arts, you know, the higher levels of practice, there was a lot of meditative kind of practices. Now, there, there may be a spiritual component, but there's certainly a very practical component. If you're jumped by four people in a dark alley, you don't want 2000 unprocessed emails somehow. Hanging around your psyche? You need to be clear; you need to be clear; you need to be clear. And, you know, I learned 40, what, 45 years ago, focus on your breathing, I'll get you present while the mindfulness people are sharing that with everybody now, come on. That's not That's not. That's not news. That's about how I got a present. So, I'm not distracted by past and future. So, I'm here, focus on what to do. So, I kind of had that as a reference point. And then as I started my own consulting practice, you know, I was the number two guy for a lot of friends. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but they did. So, I just wound up. You know, that's why I had you know if you read my Wikipedia, I had 35 jobs by the time I was 35. Simply because I just was helping people do what they were doing. So that's why I helped manage a landscape company helps a couple of friends start a restaurant, I already sold vitamins, sold mopeds, and helped a friend manage a car restoration business in LA. So, I did all kinds of stuff. But I'd walk in and look around, see what they were doing? Can we leave a little earlier in there, there's some easier way to get this done? I'm the laziest guy you've ever met. I mean, I guess you could call it efficiency, but I just kept looking at him, kill him, there's going to be some easier way for your systems to do whatever you're doing. And so, I'd help them. Now they call that process improvement. You know, we didn't call it anything other than let's get out of here sooner. And I then sort of fix it or improve it and get it somebody's on cruise control. And then I get bored on leave and go help somebody else do that. Then I discovered they pay people to do that. They call them something consultant. Oh, wow. Now I couldn't spell it. Now I am one lady too, hung up my shingle Allen associates. And I said, well, let me just see if I can sell myself on a project-by-project basis. And that's how I started in the game. But at the same time, given the background, I had in martial arts and meditative practices, and so forth, I said, my life is getting more complex and busier. It's kind of distracting me, let me look for it. I got hungry for techniques that worked for me to keep me clear about all the stuff I was doing. And so, I discovered technique after technique, I didn't wake up one morning with all this some grand epiphany was like, piece by piece, you know that I discovered this. And I had a couple of mentors that taught me some big pieces of this, that worked great. And then I started to use that not only for myself. And as I started to apply these techniques, and these practices, it created more stability, more clarity, more focus more control in my world. So, I turned around in the My consulting clients, I started to use it with them too. And it turns out, it produces exactly the same result. 


David Allen 12:47 

They started to empty their head decide on action steps, they have some sort of external brain to organize their stuff, and review it and reflect on it have some consistent basis, and they all felt more space more, control more, you know, more room to focus on the meaningful stuff, as opposed to being distracted down in the weeds too hard. So that became just on a lot of what I was doing with my clients. And then I, you know, head of human resources in a big corporation saw what I was doing. I said, Gee, David, we need that result in our whole culture. Can you design some sort of a training program around what you've come up with here? So, we can reach a lot of people at least with a model, as opposed to one on one? So, I did. And it was quite successful in 1983-84, we did a pilot program for 1000 executives and managers in Locky. And Burbank in California, and it hit a nerve. Wow, who would have thought? Now, as an American intellectual history major at Berkeley in 1968. If you'd told me that I was going to be thrust into the corporate training world. I'd said, well, what are you smoking? Come on. Whoa, well, well, what do you mean, but it turned out that was again, the rightest audience for what I had come up with. And interestingly enough, again, we can dive into this deeper if you want James, but interestingly, the people probably listening or watching this right now who might be most interested in it are the people who need it the least. They're already the most productive, organized, focused, aspirational people you'd ever meet because they run out of room. And so, the people that have been attracted to what I've done over the years are the people who need it the least trust me. I am, I have been asked to coach some of the absolutely the most productive people you would ever say, given anybody criteria about productivity, but they just run out of room and they knew a systems work, they had their own. They had some they knew they could produce results because they had that got them to where they were. They knew if they had more room, more space, and more resources, they could produce even better and even more. And so, the good news about my career, I've had the chance to work with the best and brightest and busy Just focus on the planet, you know, basically, implement it. First of all, in the first, you know, 10 or 15 years of testing this out and refining the model. You know, with all these 1000s of hours, literally, I've spent deskside, you know, with these folks, you know, practicing this stuff. Anyway, long, long answer to your short, short poke at me. 


James Laughlin 15:21 

No, it's brilliant. So essentially, really high performers. They want the edge, The Slight Edge, the 1%. And so, they know that GTD methodology can help them get that extra edge. 


David Allen 15:33 

Well, once they start to experience it, they realize it does. You know, just reading the book doesn't, you actually have to engage with this stuff. So, James, I don't know what your experience was. But you can read the book and go, Oh, that's cool. But you actually have to start to do it. Before you start to experience this, as many people would say transformation, or it's, you don't have to change yourself. You don't have to go have some transformative experience and change your whole life to get value out of this. It's simple stuff, everybody's doing some version of it already. Most people write some stuff down, most people decide what they need to do about something as a next action. So, these are not foreign behaviors or practices. But very few people do them in a consistent way, with the aim of getting clear, and getting stuff off their minds. And that's what I uncovered.  


James Laughlin 16:29 

That's powerful. So, for the person that's listening right now going, okay, where do I start? So, if we could walk through what it looks like to use your methodology, where would someone start, what's the first thing you would advise someone to do? Well, first 


David Allen 16:40 

Well, first of all, break, create a bit of a time frame, a little time slot, to actually start to implement this process. Because the process includes, if I or one of my certified coaches around the world, we're actually going to work with you. The first thing you need to do is to have room to then sit down and empty your head, literally, every single thing that's got your attention, little big, personal professional doesn't matter. Not to organize it not to prioritize it, just to record it. So, if I were working with you, James, you and I'd have a big sheet, a big pile of just printer paper, and you'd have a favorite pen. And I'd say okay, what's on your mind, what's got your attention, I need capital, we'd write that on a piece of paper, throw in your entry. First of all, make sure you had an entry. I was surprised how many people don't throw their life as their entry, as opposed to having a physical thing to categorize that. And, oh, we need to, I need to, I think we need to hire a vice president of marketing, great, write that down on a piece of paper, throw that in your in-tray. We're wondering if we should adopt or not write that down on a piece of paper, throw it in your entry. My tooth hurts, I think I probably need to look into whether you need to write that down in the entry. So as much time as you're willing to give yourself, most professionals take one to six hours to truly clear their heads. Just that just with that process, not to organize, not to prioritize, and just to record, all the things that have their attention. And things have your attention, because you're not yet appropriately engaged with them, whatever that is. You only think about cat food because your system is not set up to get cat food or your systematic process is not. The only reason you have, you know, higher, you know, question mark hire VP of Marketing is because you're not yet appropriately engaged with that commitment with yourself. So, all that is is just identifying all those things that are yanking your chain, somehow internally.  


James Laughlin 18:56 

So that was that first step, if someone's struggling to like, figure it out, and they spend five minutes and they go, oh, cool, I'm done. And really, they are not done. What kind of questions are or is there one question you can get them to ask themselves to kind of uncover what else is lurking in there? 


David Allen 19:10 

Well, we've got an incompletion checklist in my book.  


James Laughlin 19:16 

I love that, being a complacent checklist. 


David Allen 19:19 

Yeah, and we just go through that list. Great any projects that are started that are not finished yet. Any projects that need to be started, haven't been started yet. Go take a walk around in your apartment or your house or wherever you live. Anything needs to be fixed, finished, handled, done, whatever. Let's think about all the people in your life anything you need to talk to them about anything to check, you know. All I do is just start asking the questions about what are all the areas of your life and work that you may have things going on that are not complete, that is somehow grabbing your attention. You keep passing that light that bulb in your house that needs replacing. You know with it that pops into your head twice that's totally inefficient, why you're just not appropriately engaged with it? 


James Laughlin 

That's pretty powerful. 


Well, yes and no, I mean, it's so simple. You know, it's kind of a, you know, I hate to say it, but there's a bit of a duh factor here. Yeah, well, you know, duh. And most people are trying to use their head to remember, remind, prioritize, manage that stuff in your head, it's just a crappy office, it's just a terrible office, your head, your brain evolved to do some very cool stuff, use long term history and pattern recognition. So, you know, that's a computer that's a light, that's a book that's a person, as opposed to vibrations of light and sound. So, your brain evolved to do some very sophisticated stuff that computers can barely even start to do their, terms of recognizing what that is, and what it means to you. So, your brain is very, very, very good at that stuff. But you go to the store for lemons, you come back with six things and no lemons. What happened, you tried to use your head to remember reminded, you know, and I discovered 35 years ago that your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. But in the last 10 years, the brain scientists that cognitive scientists, and people researching this and basically proven the number of things you could actually hold in your head. If that's the only place you've got reminders about it. And still, function optimally is for as soon as you have more than that going on in your head, you won't be able to take a test as well, you won't be able to cook spaghetti as well, you won't be able to be as present, tucking your kids into bed at night. And don't shoot the messenger. That's now scientifically proven data. 


James Laughlin 21:39 

It makes total sense. When you think of someone talking about their phone number, if you ask them for their phone number, generally, they tell it to you in groups of three or four, they will remember all groups, smaller groups, so people are not taking all of these things out of their head and capturing them putting them on their in-tray. What's the risk, what's the side effect or the consequence of having everything just up here all the time? 


David Allen 22:03 

Lack of focus, lack of being present, lack of space. You know, just most people are so used to that. They don't know that they could get really clear. So, you don't have to finish all this stuff to get it off your mind. But you do have to record it, track it, and decide specifically what you're going to do about it. If anything, park those results in some sort of a trusted external brain, like your calendar, or, a shopping list, or a grocery list. You know, anybody who keeps a calendar and grocery list is already doing this. Your head can't do it nearly as well as an external brain, your head can then make choices. See if I have a real appropriate grocery list. Then when I get to the grocery store, I have the freedom to buy stuff, not on the list. Oh, that's a cool thing. Let me get that. Oh, that's really neat. Let me do that. Why? Because I'm freed up because I know I'm not going to miss anything on the list. So, it gives me the freedom to be spontaneous to be intuitive. See, I'm not a naturally organized guy, really, you know, people meet me or hang out with me and they go, God, you're nothing like what I thought you'd be. You know, my, no, I like to be free and spontaneous and follow my intuitive hunches. That's why I came up with all this stuff because it allows me to do that. 


James Laughlin 23:23 

That's amazing. It's so interesting. When you look at some of the greatest artists that have been, they talk about, you know, they would create a time every day. And that was painting time, or that was artist time. And that gives them these boundaries to work within. But because they had these boundaries that could be more spontaneous, they can be more creative within that framework. So, I really, I really resonate with what you're saying. 


David Allen 23:44 

Yeah, well, I think it was the flub era when they were one of the great novelists, you know? Who said, be steady and well-ordered in your life. So, you can be spontaneous and crazy in your work. Or something like that. I know. He said it better than I could. But that's the idea, right? 


James Laughlin 24:04 

I love that. So, let's say we've got this in-tray. And we've started putting everything over the head, none of the paper where do we go next? What's the next step? 


David Allen 24:14 

Well, then the next step is, as I've identified it, first is a capture. The second is to clarify. Clarify means and that's probably the most subtle and sophisticated part of this model is the thinking process you have to reply to those emails to those thoughts you wrote down to anything that showed up that you've allowed come into your psychic ecosystem. Do you need to then decide why is that there? So, you don't care what shows up in your neighbor's mailbox, I don't think. It's only what's in yours, right? So, what's landed in your world, you then need to make some decisions about it. So, there's a very simple algorithm. You can see it in the book. It's a very simple model. The thought process you need to apply to Write those things you wrote down. And that thought process first thought is what actually is that thing? That sounds like a dumb question. But it's not really, I mean, I'm trying to I'm in Amsterdam moved here I have two Dutch little corporations I've created. A whole lot of my mail is in Dutch. Well, I'm only beginning to learn Dutch. So, I have to ask this dumb question. What is this? From the tax department? Are they telling me that they're sending me money? Or that I need to send them money? So, I need to decide exactly what that thing is? Or is it junk mail? By the way, mail doesn't show up all I'm junk mail, you actually have to decide that, you know, that thing is junk mail. So, there's a decision process. So, the first thing is, what is this thing? The second thing is this something I'm committed to acting on? Or to do something about? Yes, or no? Now, we get a lot of stuff into our world that there's no action required. And that's three things that are either trash, I didn't need it, or now that I've seen it, I don't need it, delete, read, you know, whatever, recycle. And then there's stuff you say, there's no action on that. But I want to keep that because I want to be able to refer back to it later on, potentially, that's a reference. There's a lot of stuff we get, we just need to keep, because I want to be able to refer back to that, for whatever reason. Second, the non-actionable thing is referenced. The third thing is this notice you get from the local company, and the thing you really want to hear is not for three months out, and you're not sure exactly if you want to commit yet to buy a ticket, or incubate. I need to potentially move on that later on. Not now. But I need some sort of trigger. You know, someday, maybe I'll do that later. But not right now. But I don't want to throw it away totally. So, you know, trash, reference, incubate. Those are the three non-actionable stuff that you allow into your world, you'd have to make that decision about all this stuff you wrote down, you actually going to buy cat food, you actually going to hire vice president or you actually want to adopt whatever. And you may say, there's still something I might need or want to do or decide about that. And that's the actionable stuff. And that's where we get a lot of that stuff. And then if it's actionable, the first question is, what's the next action? What's the very next thing if you had nothing else to do but move the needle on that project or that thing that has your attention? What would you be doing? Is that an email to say it was on a website to serve? Is that a conversation point to have with your life partner? What's the next step? Once you decide on the very next action, then if you can actually do that action within two minutes, you got to do it right, then because it would take you longer to organize it, remind yourself about it, and then finish that a lot of executives, and that said, David, it's worth every dollar ever paid you for this coaching just for the two-minute rule. That's cool. So, I want you to decide on the next action, if you can finish the action within two minutes, do it. And a lot of people find that even just that one little technique out of this whole methodology is worth its weight and goal. And if you can't finish it in two minutes, whatever the next action is, then you need to ask yourself, are you the right person to do that action? 


David Allen 28:21 

If not, you need to hand it off. Should that should your life partner handle that thing? Should your assistant handle that thing? Should your boss handle that thing? Should the accounting department handle that thing? as a next step. So, the delegate would be the second option, if it's an actionable next action. And thirdly, longer than two-minute action, I can hand it off, I got to do that action, then that goes to what we call pending or that's, that sort of goes into your inventory of actions you need to take in and around all the other stuff you need to do. So that just goes into your inventory parked into your inventory. One last question to clarify, stuff to appropriately engaged with it is, will one action finish, whatever this commitment is that you've got? If not, you got a project that you need to then identify and track project, you might not have decided whether to hire a VP of marketing, but researching whether you should or could be a project for me. So, you don't have to finish it or even make that decision. You need to go okay, I need to get to a go- or no-go decision about this opportunity, this situation, or this problem. And that's a project and then what's the next action about that? You know, to get my board together and have a conversation or I need to get right whatever. So actionable stuff, do it delegate it are different. That doesn't mean procrastinating just means putting it into your inventory of stuff. And, you know, what's the outcome that you're committed to, that this thing is triggering, or is this thing it's about. So that's a clarification step that sits very close to stepping three, which is, again, finish those things, they're all going to suck back up into my head if I don't park reminders and some sort of external system lists. 


James Laughlin 30:22 

The list of important things to have, right? 


David Allen 30:25 

Oh, it's like a calendar, your calendar is a list, your grocery list is a list of any of these things, or does it look. So, my head doesn't have to keep remembering and reminding, let me create a list of all the stuff to talk to my partner about, let me create a list of all the stuff I need to do when I'm at my computer, tied into the internet, let me have a list of all the errands that I need to run. So, these are just lists, you know, and that's really all they are. And so, the organization system is really being able to build some sort of a, or format, some sort of an external brain that can hold reminders of all of these things you've come up with, you know, as decisions are made about stuff, you need to do what you need to battle. That's step three, step four is then use the system. So, you're making sure you're looking at your errands list. When you go out for errands, make sure you're looking at the stuff that you identified for a board meeting agenda. Make sure you're looking at stuff to talk to your life partner about when you're talking about the business and lifestyle. So, you make sure that you're using your external brain. Otherwise, your brain has to start to become your brain again, you don't trust it.  


James Laughlin 31:37 

You're an experience working with people, what's the biggest block from them, you know, actually having their list but not engaging and not using it, what stops most people? 


David Allen 31:46 

They just used to stuff in their head, they think is too much trouble trying to keep track of all that stuff. Externally, they may get inspired by the seminar, they may get inspired by coaching. But they, you know, most people run back into their habit, which just keeps stuff in their head takes a while to train yourself, not to keep stuff in your head. And to externalize all that stuff. As soon as you don't trust your system. As soon as your lists are out of date or incomplete. You don't trust it. It says too much trouble, not giving me the freedom that I think I want and so you keep their stuff in your head. So, if I had a magic pill that would get people to automatically decide to buy or clearheaded what I need. And so, I will automatically do a weekly review and once a week catches up and make sure my systems are current, make sure my head is empty. Maybe make a lot more money than I'm making. But you know, come on, it's a huge habit to change. 


James Laughlin 32:43 

Yeah, it's massive. And yeah, I totally understand where you're coming from big personally, I have a Sunday to one to two hours on a Sunday, where I review my week, I look at what happened, what went well, what didn't go well. And then I set up the next week. And each day I have you know, it might take 90 seconds, it might take four or five minutes at most each day just checking through the same thing on a daily basis, on a monthly basis. So, the people that you work with are your highest performers, your best clients, what is it that helps them actually embrace this methodology, the GTD methodology, and run with it? 


David Allen 33:18 

They taste it, and they go, Oh my god. Clear space? Wow. And they say I want more of that. Or how do I got to like keep that? And keeping it, you know, tasting, it's one thing keeping it's quite another. 


James Laughlin 33:41 

And it's their time where you're like, hey, if they do it for three or four months, consistently, it's part of who they are. This is the new DNA? 


David Allen 33:49 

Yeah, probably I say a couple of months. If they kept with it, then it would probably at least some of it would be habitual. Right. And by the way, you don't have to implement this whole thing. I mean, it's nice if you did, you'd experience something quite unique. But just a little piece of it. If you just wrote a few more things down than you'd normally do out of your head, you'll feel better, and be more in control. If you just made a next action decision about one or two things that are bugging you right now what you're going to do about it. You feel better. So, this is not like running with scissors. There's nothing. There's nothing. Nothing in this methodology that wouldn't do anything but improve your condition. But the whole game. Oh, that's a whole new. That's a whole new experience if you're actually willing, and if you're willing to stick with it long enough to see what it's like it is to live more strategically more creatively more present. But see, you don't just do this once. Life keeps changing. You keep getting new stuff while you're talking right now, James, you've got stuff piling up in your email that's going to potentially change your priorities that, you know, tomorrow morning, right? Me too. So, it's a constant process of new stuff coming in integrating the new stuff, what does it mean, recalibrating it against all the other stuff that's potentially meaningful that I've captured or whatever, and rethinking that whole gestalt. And you don't, that's not going to end until you end, I don't think. So, it's a habitual set of behaviors. See, if I told you, David, hey, David, would you get back? Or would you send me a picture that I can put on the window? Oh, okay. Pen, notepad? Or if I'm not by notepads, not there. Pen? Notepad? I live with it, right? People say, well, how often should you sit down and empty your head? I don't even have to sit down and empty my head because I keep my head empty. But that's a habit. It takes really sophisticated people a couple of years to really build that habit. Where you're not saying, oh, I'll remember that. Oh, I'll remember that. Sure. And then two minutes later, when you're thinking of the next thing you sure will forget. You forgot the first thing. 


James Laughlin 36:25 

I'm guilty of it for sure. Like I have to write things down and take notes. But yeah, you give me a good old- for those that are listening. That's David, give me a few faces slaps there. So, David, when it comes to taking notes, I have lots of places I capture. And I've started to capture everything on the phone recently in one spot, but I'm guilty of having a few lists. And sometimes those lists get lost get mixed up, and get forgotten. So, what's the best way to capture in an effective way and then track back and make sure that hey, have I completed that list? Is that list merged over with the other new lists that I've created? What's the most effective way of doing it? 


David Allen 37:06 

Well, when you say list, are you talking about capture list? Are you talking about the organized list? 


James Laughlin 37:10 

Capture list. 


David Allen 37:11 

Yeah, well capturing, that's why just 98% of my capture is low tech, the Wi-Fi no batteries. It's quick, that's not my organizational system. That are just placeholders for things that then, later on, will go into my organization system based upon what I decide I'm going to do about the notes that I took. But it sounds like you're doing digital that problem with digital capture is the black hole. You know, if you're not emptying out everything you captured in there within every 24 to 48 hours, you're screwed. You know, you're not, you got Oh, I think I've got stuff in it, oh, you got that ambient anxiety, it's going to creep back up into you again. So, it's fine to use your digital capture as long as you empty wherever you capture about every 24 to 48 hours. If you do not stop, use low tech, and then throw the low tech notes I throw away probably 80% of the notes I take. You know, when I have the idea, I think I think it's a great idea because I had the idea, but then later on while they were doing with it. You know, I may just toss it, that's fine. But then I don't have my mind freed of remembering reminding, you know of anything is potentially meaningful, potentially meaningful doesn't mean that everything I think is meaningful. Again, I throw away most of that stuff because it was brilliant while I had the idea, but later on, it's like a dumb idea. 


James Laughlin 38:40 

So good. Now, what's the next stage? So, after that, what's the next step for the individual? 


David Allen 38:47 

Well, the next step after what would be the question, after they've captured and clarified everything and got some sort of organization system, which is then the real key is the weekly review once a week, as you do on Sundays, sit down and regroup, you know, bring up the regard. You know, because God things are, you and me both have probably had stuff happen in the last one or two or three days that we haven't had a chance yet to sit down and say, wait, wait a minute, that's really a project and what's my next step on it? I just do I got it. I just haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do about it. That's natural. I mean that that shows up because life is coming at us faster than we can keep all this stuff pristinely captured, clarified and processed, and organized. But you can't let that go very long. As soon as you let that go longer than seven or eight or 10 days. You know, your brain says Gee, my system is out of date. I'm out of date them and then you go back to your old habits. So, the main thing once you start to catch the application and the implementation of this methodology, then it's kept up. And the weekly review will really be the one that does that now. Reviewing as you know if you remember in the book takes on lots of different levels. So, you know, everybody says, well, how do I set priorities about all that? And what do I do? Well, there's all those six horizons that identified that we actually have commitments all the way up to what's your life purpose? Or what's your business purpose? What are your core values? What are your core principles all the way down to then? What's the vision of wild success that you're committed to completing? What are the goals that you need to finish and objectives you need to accomplish over the next year or two? And what are all the things you need to maintain in terms of quality control and finances and health and vitality? What are all the things you need? And then what are all the projects you got about all that? So, you know, life is a pretty complex mix of a lot of different commitments, we have a lot of different levels. So, the weekly review will keep you more operationally clear. But that doesn't necessarily mean some of those projects you need to get rid of because of where you're going, or where you want to go. When you need some new projects, you might need to add on based upon some goals you've got or some vision you have about your ideal future. So, you know, you can't negate any of those aspects to also how do you get stuff done? What do you need to get done? Well, I need to fulfill my purpose, I need to achieve my vision, I need to complete my objectives, I need to manage and maintain, you know, all the stuff I need to maintain. So, I've got a healthy, balanced engine that's going to get me where I need to go. And all the projects I need to finish about all that and we're Come on, most people have 30 to 100 projects, and most people have 150 to 220 next actions just in terms of their right now, the reality of what all that stuff is about so much more than people really realize. So that's what I've done a lot of our work over all these years has been getting just getting people to not to tell them what should be on their list, but get them to get clear about what their lists are, yeah. 


James Laughlin 41:53 

So, it's really important. And when we think of decision fatigue, you know, so you wake up each day, and you've got this ability to make decisions. But the more decisions you're making throughout the day and remaking decisions because you haven't taken action on things now obviously takes its toll on our cognitive thought processes, our ability to make good decisions. So, with this methodology, can help people reduce that decision fatigue? 


David Allen 42:20 

For sure, absolutely. You know, one of my biggest big champions and friends of mine, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney wrote a book a few years ago actually called Willpower. And they were the ones that popularized the idea of decision fatigue. They actually flew out to California while I was still living there to find that name. And how did you figure this out? 30 years ago, we just uncovered this ourselves about how critical it was. And Baumeister is probably the top researcher of cognitive science in the US, among teachers, and at the University of Florida. And he's the one who came up with all the research that proves things as max in terms of keeping your head and Baumeister would tell you anything in his book. Look, you don't have to finish something to get it off your mind. But if you know you have a plan for what you need to do, and you've got some reminder about what you need to do about that in some appropriate place, freed up clear. So, I forget what you ask. But that's the essence of being able to stay clear, is to make sure that you've well captured, clarified, and organize this stuff in some appropriate place. 


James Laughlin 43:38 

And for the person that's going right now, oh, this sounds like a lot of work and a lot of time and it got to sit down on a weekly basis. Can you just explain to them that, hey, if you sit down across a week for an hour to two hours over, it might long take a week? How much it's going to save them in time? 


David Allen 43:54 

Well, I say, how many of you have a favorite sports team? How much time do you think they spend thinking about the work they need to do on Saturday afternoon when they play? How about a whole week? And most people don't even take 10 minutes to think about their day. I'm saying well, we'll come on you. Sorry, you got to think. Thinking is hard, but it doesn't take a lot of time. But again, it takes stepping back and being able to see and locate yourself in space and time. Anybody who's listening or watching this right now who's looked at your calendar over the last day or two have done exactly that. At least you step back and said okay, where do I need to be tomorrow? What do I need to do tonight, I don't want to miss an appointment, phone call, or whatever? You just look at it yourself in space and time to a small degree. So, what you and I are talking about here is let's do that totally. So how much time does it take? And everybody who's ever done a real weekly review will change their strategies for the next week. I guarantee you have never seen an exception. The executives, we coach Oh my God, who? Yeah, I was worried about that. Now I know what this is knowing how these things fit in there. And, you know, it's like the fire tower versus hugging the tree. You know, we all hug trees, tree huggers. And I was like, you and I are doing that right now. We're down in the weeds. And we're doing this thing that we agreed to do together. Yeah. But at some point, when we stop, we're going to need to have to lift up and look around on now what? Now what, right? So, it's like, then you need to climb up into the fire tower and look around. If you've never been up to the fire tower, you'd never see the fire that was coming. But you go over the firepower, say, oh, and smoke over there. Oh, okay, I guess we better than that. So, you need to lift up and just get a higher horizon, essentially, to look at your life and work. Then locate yourself in space and time. See, if you wait until the fire lands in your tree, you're screwed. Yeah. Too late, you know, but you could have seen it coming. Had you lifted up and seeing a little higher horizon doesn't mean this is easy, oh, my god, no. But if life was easy, you never grow, you never expand, it never went, you'd never beat your competitors. And, you know, lifestyle, you don't want it to be easy, but you want to be able to be in the driver's seat of how you're navigating it. And then that's going to give you the edge, you know about what to do. You know, you're going into your zone, usually when it's tough. If you're appropriately engaged with it, you know, that's where you're learning, that's where you expand, that's where you express is when you are navigating the things that are stressing you or the opportunities presented to you or the problems that you need to address. 


James Laughlin 47:01 

I really resonate with that as well, David, you look at me, hi, Chick sent me Hey, and his studies around flow, he said, there are three things that had to happen. One, you've got to focus on one thing only, and nothing else just has to be one thing the thing that you're focusing on has to be meaningful in some way. And then three, relating to what you just said there was, it's going to take you that this activity that you're doing, it's got to take you to the upper level of your comfort zone, it's got to be at the upper level of your ability and stretch you so yeah, I think yeah, I really do resonate with what you said. 


David Allen 47:35 

You're just going to be in the driver's seat, that's all. You don't want to be a victim. So that's why a lot of the purpose of our work is to create a planet where people perceive problems as projects. That's amazing. If you think about that, are any of you listening or watching this right now? What are the biggest problems you think you have? And I will say, well, what is the project you have? What's your desired outcome? In that situation, resolve it, clarify it, finish it, handle it, deal with it. That's a project doesn't mean that's easy. It doesn't mean it's fun. Believe me, I've been in many situations that I would say, are not easy and not fun. However, if you name it as a project, then you're in the driver's seat, what's the next step I need to take? What's the next thing I need to do to resolve this to clarify this to move it to closure? I challenge any of you listening or watching this right now, to do that with it. Three things, the biggest things right now that you would say, are either problems or opportunities or, you know, situations that have your attention? And then say, Okay, what's my desired outcome? To get that resolved to get it clarified? Doesn't mean that you're going to doesn't mean, you know, if I've got a project called should I, you know, merge with your company, James. My project maybe to research that I may have to make, at some point, I just need to make a go- or no-go decision about the opportunity or the challenge, right? Once if I say no, got enough data, just not right. You know, we both are kind of going on different paths. And so, whatever I get to mark that project off has been done successfully. I have now clarified that very few people are willing to or have sort of automatically started to see life in that way. And so that's a lot of what this methodology does, is it gives people the tools to be able to think about life, more from the driver's seat as opposed to being the victim. Because as soon as you complain, you're in victim mode. 


James Laughlin 49:46 

And you can't be both you know, you can't be the victor and the victim. You've got to choose; you know which one you're going to go with. 


David Allen 49:53 

Yeah, and being the victim. Being the victor does not mean that you win, beat everybody down, you know, whatever. It just means you get that, that you're clear with yourself about how you are with this situation. 


James Laughlin 50:07 

And, David, for you personally, when was there a time when you had a problem, a real problem, and you realized, oh, I can take the victim approach. And I'm going to turn this into a project and then at work that you use this methodology in real life, say in your personal life, perhaps, or professional, but it worked out brilliantly what was an example of that? 


David Allen 50:27 

Hired the wrong guy to run the company. It took a long time; it was expensive and painful to unhook from that. And to redo it. At some point, I had to go, okay, here's the project is to get clarity about that situation. And get that under control. And, you know, wound up having to fire the guy and having to pay a bunch of money. And he just didn't match the DNA of what was going on. But it took three years to find that out and to finally step up to the plate to make that project. 


James Laughlin 51:01 

Brilliant to see your own methodology in action, right. 


David Allen 51:06 

Yeah, it's tough. But again, you know, I learned I learned from it. And you know, he's a, he was a lovely guy and just kind of the wrong fit. And it took a while for that to become an issue that had to be addressed. 


James Laughlin 51:22 

And that's the whole, I guess, the reflection that we chatted about earlier, to having your weekly review your monthly review, reflecting on things that went well, but also not so well on how did they end up that way. So, when people are reflecting if they haven't got the book yet, which I encourage everybody to do, I will be putting it in the show notes, please do go and get a copy of getting things done. And in fact, Time Magazine heralded this as one of the best business self-help books of its time. So incredible books. So please do go and buy the book. If you're listening to this, just you're probably listening to it on your phone. So, get it out, go to Amazon and get it ordered.  


David Allen 51:57 

Or your local bookstore, come on guys that support your local bookstore? Yes, even better. I'm a big fan of supporting those guys. Because there's, they're great, and they're actually making a comeback, which is nice to see. Because a lot of people are missing that sort of community and local sense of sort of local bore, from an intellectual standpoint, 


James Laughlin 52:21 

That you cannot beat it going into a beautiful local bookstore, and just perusing and browsing. It's brilliant.  


David Allen 52:31 

You're not going to get the book, however; you're going to get them. That's a plug for the locals.  


James Laughlin 52:37 

Yeah, definitely. So, horizons, this actually takes a second that I've written it down here was something I thought that the audience would really appreciate hearing about. So, would you mind going into a little bit more detail about the horizons? 


David Allen 52:50 

Sure. What's like, anybody listening or watching this right now? What are you committed to? What do you need to get done? Getting Things Done? Well, what do you need to get done? Well, at the highest level, that would be I need to, I need to fulfill my purpose. By the way, you can use this model, you can iterate this model on an enterprise, as well as yourself personally. So, you can take either one. So, what's your purpose? Like, why are you on the planet? How are you doing? It, I don't know that I have a final answer that I have a working hypothesis. And I'll change it and I get better data. And I think that's a good approach. For all of us. It's like, it's a working hypothesis. But until I get better data, here's what I think I'm about what I need to be doing. So, the purpose would be what you need to get done and fulfill your purpose. Right? And, and at the same level would be your core values, I need to fulfill my purpose within these value systems. In other words, James, what would really, really, really, really bother you? You don't care where you work, you don't care where you live, you don't care who you live with, as long as what and that would be that would start to give you some resonance about okay, I need to make sure that I'm a service I need to make sure that I'm, you know, that I'm serving people around me that I'm connected with, I made it make sure that get in your company and your organization, I need to make sure that X, Y, and Z. And so many companies have gone through that exercise to define your core values. And so that's what you need to get done is they will be fulfilling your purpose within the parameters of your values, right? So, there's the top-level down knowing what that is, is that going to help you decide which email to write first tonight? A little bit. But then there's another operational level if you when I say drop down, that doesn't mean less. It just means moving to a more operational focus. So okay, if he were fulfilling your purpose wildly successfully, James, what would you be doing five years from now? Or three years from now, or 10 years from now, or 100 years from now? What's your vision, essentially, and this is what would bring it down into, into real space and time, like, okay, here's what it would look like. So, you can have a very similar purpose of serving people to somebody next to you. But they may want to do that by being a teacher or being a physician, you may want to do it by being a great podcaster, or there's giving great, you know, help and cognitive juices for people that want to improve their lives. Both of those could fulfill that purpose, but they'd be a very different vision of what it would be looking like in the world. So, the vision would be what would while success for your purpose being fulfilled in the world look, sound, or feel like? Now, if you clarified that? Would that help you decide which email to write first tonight? A little bit more. Then you may probably have, okay, well, my vision is to be the great New Zealand author of fictional books, right? World-known, fabulous. What do you need to do over the next 3 to 24 months that would sort of move you in that direction? What are your objectives or goals? So, this would be, you know, I count these much like elevators in Europe, there's level five, level four, level three, level two, level one and ground. So, level five is purpose and principles, level four would be vision, level three would be objectives or goals, what are the things you need to accomplish? When do you think would maybe have your vision occur? So usually, in organizations, this will be your typical level of their organizational plan and your strategic plan, your annual budgeting, or whatever is done, kind of on a yearly basis where you're looking at the next year or two, that would be at that level. Now, once you had your sort of objectives or goals, we've had them, we had that laid out, would that help you decide which email to write first today, a little bit more, then you have all the levels of things that you need to all the commitment, you've got to maintain the engine of enterprise yourself personally, or your enterprise that will make sure this thing can get towards your goals and your vision? Areas of Focus and accountability would be horizon two. And your company, how's sales? How is customer service? How's IT? How's HR? How's 


David Allen 57:37 

Admin? How's, how are all the things, you don't finish those things, you just need to make sure that they're all okay enough to keep your engine balanced and going toward where you want to go? For you personally, James, how's your health and vitality? How are your finances? How are your relationships? How's your dog? How are you? How's your creative expression? How's your fun factor? You know, all the things that say look at it, these are the things that actually matter to me to make sure my life is okay, so I'm moving towards where I want to go. That's arising to your job description, if you will, in your work. And then you say, okay, what are all the things I need to finish about? All of that, that's them horizon one would be your projects. I need to research whether to hire a vice president of marketing, we need to restructure the board. We need to deal with this offer to buy us as a company, we need to yada yada, I need a new assistant. So just the project level, all the things that are going to take more than one step to complete that you still need to complete to make all that other stuff happen. That's projects that again, back to that point that most professionals seven between 30 and 100 of those include personal, get the tooth fixed, get dog research, whether we want to give the kids karate lessons or not and etc. Once you get that clear, is that going to help you decide which email to write first tonight? A lot. That will help you a lot. But then, of course, you don't have anything to do to get down to the ground level, which is the doing level. Okay, what do you need to do about any of that stuff, emails to send stuff to buy at the store stuff to talk to your partner about something to wrap things you need to draft on the computer things you need to research on the web, you know, and most people got 150 to 200 of those right now? So those are the different levels of commitments. I'm sorry, don't shoot the messenger. I couldn't get into any simpler than this. A lot of people tried to set priorities and they tried to cram all that into something called to set your priorities and I say well, wait a minute, which one of those conversations is lacking? Or needs to be assessed more or clarified more or paid more attention to, in order to feel ideally your actions are going to fit finished projects that are there because you've got areas of focus that need to be maintained, that is moving toward the goals you need to have and the vision that you're going to create with all that and then fulfilling your purpose. Yay. So, the more those are all aligned than the more comfortable you're going to feel about whatever it is you're doing. I couldn't get any simpler than that, James. I would have loved to have I tried, I tried, and there's no way I could get any simpler than that. But going through those exercises, you know, with my clients, at whatever level, they seem to have the most attention about some of the more, for instance, I work with one client who had just moved from Chief Operating Officer to CEO of a big, very well-known financial firm. So, he needed to go through what are all the things now in my job description as CEO that I need to look at and make sure I'm okay about that's different from his COO Job. So sometimes it's just a job description that would that brings a lot more clarity, a lot more comfortable with what's the current reality? 


James Laughlin 1:01:22 

Now, if we look at GTD and what your purpose and your vision are, where are you trying to take it? What's the endgame for you? 


David Allen 1:01:31 

As many people in the world can get some piece of this to improve their condition. You know, I'm 76. So, I can't, I couldn't stop doing it. I couldn't stop. I mean, I think I'm, I'm not really a motivational speaker, I'm not, I'm really more of an educator, probably more than anything else. I don't really care whether people do this or not, I care, or I wouldn't do it. But whether you do it or not it's up to you. My job is to let you know, that there's a game out here to play. And the result of that game is X, Y, and Z, you can decide how important that might be to you. And then I'm here to help you in whatever way to do that. So that we're teaching kids nine years old, this stuff we're teaching, CEOs, you know, we were represented in 90 countries now around the world with certified trainers and coaches that we've trained to, to teach this stuff and to bring it out to other people. And so, you know, it's a big world. And there are a lot of people that don't know about this yet that could use it. So, my job basically, I see the rest of my life, career-wise, anywhere professional is just expanded as whatever opportunities present themselves, like talking to you. 


James Laughlin 1:02:49 

There'll be a lesson and listening to this right now that goes, I need to get the book right away. I love it. Please do that. Go to your local bookstore and get on Amazon to get that book. Now. David, I've got one last question for you before we wrap up, and I want you to think about someone who's dear to you, and your family, someone who's maybe substantially younger than you. And they said, hey, look, I want one piece of advice. And that question comes in this form, it says, how can I lead my life with more purpose? How would you answer that family member? 


David Allen 1:03:26 

Something that took me many years to recognize was that I had an inner still small voice that knew me that loved me, that knew my game. I just had to stop and pay attention to that, but I didn't realize that was there, or that I could access it. So, my coaching to anybody is to learn to be quiet, learn to listen, learn to let go and relax, and then pay attention to the still small voice inside of you, that knows who you are, and where you're going. You should be doing but should we use that word cautiously, you know that you don't want to shoot on yourself. But has your directive and that's been my experience over all these years is that that voice is there and they talk about what to listen to it and pay attention to it. And it's always there. So, if anybody can learn that sooner than I did, I was probably in my late 20s or 30s Before I really caught that and how to exercise that you can do it through meditative or reflective any kind of had to do a stop take a breath go hey, voice what's up? What do you think I should do about X, Y, and Z? You got to listen, and pay attention. 


James Laughlin 1:04:44 

Beautiful advice and the meditation side of things. So that's obviously something we've talked about a few times. So, you've brought it up. So, is that something you practice daily? 


David Allen 1:04:54 

Yeah. You know, in previous years, I spent a long time doing it now. which was more kind of lifestyle being how I think how I stop and relax and stop and let go and do that sometimes are more focused times and others but yeah. 


James Laughlin 1:05:12 

David, show up more and more with that leaders' great leaders around the planet meditating, detaching go for meditation walks, open my meditations, have you got any favorite type of meditation that you enjoy? 


David Allen 1:05:24 

Close your eyes, relax. Listen, you know, my screensaver says let go. Good. Control is a big human addiction. So being willing to relax and let go, you know, it's let go, let God is my sort of mantra. And then so you know, just let go into letting whoever the powers that be have that happening. And then pay attention to that. 


James Laughlin 1:05:54 

What you've created is incredibly powerful. And the book itself is phenomenal. So I really do hope that for the listener that's listening right now go get the book, read it, it will be transformational if you take action on it. And David, I just want to wish you all the best with GTD and the methodology globally. I hope it continues to be a great success. 


David Allen 1:06:16 

Thanks, James. This is fun! 


James Laughlin 1:06:18 

So great to connect with you so much. 


David Allen 1:06:21 

Yeah, good luck to you, and have a great rest of your life for all of you. 


James Laughlin 1:06:26 

Thank you so much. 


James Laughlin 1:06:46 

Thanks for tuning in today and investing in your own personal leadership. Please hit that subscribe button. And I'd love it if you'd leave me a rating and review. I've got some amazing guests lined up for you in the coming weeks. And leaders. It's that time to get out there and to lead your life on purpose.