Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 165 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork chats with David Allen about his Getting Things Done Methodology.
Last week on the podcast, we shared an episode from The Businessese Influencer Marketing Podcast. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Blogging comes with a never-ending to-do list. Reach out to that sponsor! Send so-and-so an invoice! Look into why my site is slow! Come up with an editorial calendar for next month!
How do you ensure that you stay productive and on top of all of your to-dos? You have a set system of principles to keep you organized and motivated.
That’s what Getting Things Done is all about. You’ll learn all about David’s productivity tips that will help you create order out of chaos in this episode!
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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, I share a list of lists, and we talk to the David Allen, the father of the GTD methodology, getting things done, something that I’ve talked a lot about on this podcast, so I’m so excited to have him on. Hey there everybody, this is Bjork Ostrom. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, brought to you by WP Tasty, the go-to place for your WordPress needs. We’ve been running WP Tasty now for almost two years, and we are at the point where we have picked up steam and it is super exciting to see thousands of people using WP Tasty plugins. So if you run a WordPress blog, make sure to go and check out WPTasty.com to see if any of the plugins that we offer would potentially help you build your traffic, either through social, like Pinterest, or through SEO.
The Tasty Tip, brought to you by WP Tasty is all about lists. As a matter of fact, it’s a lists of lists list. And the idea behind this is we’re going to be talking a lot about this idea of GTD on the podcast with David. And you know GTD from previous conversations that I’ve had. I’m a huge fan of GTD, getting things done, and it’s kind of a methodology for approaching your work. And one of the most important things is managing your lists. And order to do that, it’s important to have a piece of software, you don’t have to, you could do an analog methodology like David talks about on the podcast, but for many of us that listen this podcast, we are tech-oriented and therefore we want to have all of our stuff stored in a software tool, whether online or on our computer.
And a great resource is actually the common tools area on GettingThingsDone.com. We’ll link to that in the show notes, but to get there, you can go to GettingThingsDone.com/common/tools/software. It’s going to be a list of the different list managers. It’s a list of lists. And the tools that are listed there are going to be tools that you can use to get started with the getting things done methodology, which we’re going to be talking about on the podcast today. So I know that’s one of the common questions that people have, and as we talk about on the podcast, you can do lots of different things and the system itself, GTD, is very flexible.
But I also know that people will say, “Hey, what is the software that you would recommend? What is the software that I should use?” And this list of the list managers is a great place to start. I’ll let you know, and as I share on the podcast, my favorite one is Things. But that’s a Mac and iOS specific software, so the other tools that are listed give you lots of different options for ways that you can go through the GTD management and list creation process. And these are all great tools to check out.
All right, on today’s interview, we are talking with David Allen. David Allen is the author and brainchild, if you want to call it that, behind Getting Things Done. And this is a way to approach the work that you’re doing, but also just the general things that live in your head and the things that you want to get done. It’s not just about work, as we talk about on the podcast. It’s also about those important life things, or just the general hobbies that you want to pursue. And we’re going to talk about why it’s so important to have some type of structure, some framework that you use to approach how you accomplish things, to approach how you get things done, whether that be for work or personal.
And GTD helps you establish that framework. We’re going to talk about some of the things you can implement right away, today after listening to the podcast, as well as some of the high-level, philosophical reasons why it’s so important to have a framework. So I’m super excited to have this conversation today. David, welcome to the podcast.
David Allen: Hey. Delighted to be here. Thanks for the invitation.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So lead off question here. I want to dive deep into some certain areas, but we got to start up high for people that aren’t familiar with who you are and what you do. So let’s say that you’re at a dinner party, we can maybe set the scene with a little ambient music in the background. But you’re at a dinner party, somebody comes up to you and they say, “Hello there. What is it that you do?” They ask you that question. How do you respond?
David Allen: I say have a methodology of best practices that allows you to create a lot more space in your head to focus more meaningfully on the meaningful things in your life.
Bjork Ostrom: And I would assume that when you say that, there are people who their eyes light up. It’s maybe like sitting next to a psychologist on a plane, where it’s like this is my opportunity to ask some questions about some problems that I have, because I feel like those are things that everybody struggles with. We struggle with this idea of clearing up space in our head, and to have some type of system that we work with. And that system is GTD. So if you were to explain in kind of a short synopsis version of what GTD is how do you explain that?
David Allen: Sure. Well, all you have to do is identify something that has your attention. “I need cat food. I need a life. I need to figure out whether I want to get divorced or not. I need to buy a house.” All you have to do is identify whatever those things are that have your attention, and then you need to somehow hold some focus on those things. So our first step in our process is to capture those things. Write it down, “Cat food, divorce, house.” Whatever, you write that down. And then step two is you go through each one of those and go, “Okay, am I actually going to do something about that?” You need to clarify exactly what your commitment is about these things.
So the clarify step basically comes down to, “Look, is this something to move on or not?” And if it is, what’s the very next action you would need to take. You’ve got nothing else to do but to clarify whether you want a divorce or not, or clarify buying the house, or clarify cat food. What’s the next step? What’s the very next thing you need to, you or anybody would need to do to move this forward to get it off your mind. So clarify, that’s the second step. That’s the thinking process about, “Okay, actions. And is there some outcomes that I need to focus on?” Buy cat food is probably not a big one, buy house would be. Or research whether to get a divorce or not would be a big one.
So if you’ve got something that one step won’t finish, you need to then clarify what’s the project. So actions and outcomes, that is what’s the next action and what’s the project I need to keep track of. That’s a thinking process that needs to be applied to all the stuff that has your attention. And then, third step is if you can’t finish those things as soon as you think of them, you need to park some reminder of the action and the outcome that you’ll see at the right time, that’s the organize step. Put it in some list. What are all your projects? What are all the things you need to talk to your partner about? What are all the things you need to buy at the hardware store? Whatever. And then you need to park reminders of those actions in appropriate places as well as the outcomes.
And then, step four, you need to make sure you review or reflect on the contents of all that. When you go out for errands, don’t just think what you’re trying to remember in your mind. How about you have a list of all the things you told yourself you need to buy at the hardware store, or buy at the grocery store. Stop by the bank. Whatever. Those all better be in some sort of a trusted place that you can reflect on and see the contents of your inventory of commitments.
And then step five is, “Hey, let me go out for errands and here’s the two things I’m going to do.” And you do that with trust, you’re in your zone. Time disappears. You’re cool. You’re on to whatever you need to do. So those five steps we uncovered. I didn’t make them up. I just identified them because that’s how you get your kitchen under control, your conscious under control or whatever. You capture, you clarify, you organize, you reflect, and you engage.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And it’s interesting. There’s a course on Lynda that you did, you actually talk about that kitchen example of like what are the steps you go through when you need to clean your kitchen, such a helpful analogy, but also real life example of maybe how you’d implement GTD, and even in the examples you gave, everything from cat food to refinancing the mortgage on your house, or building a new house, all of those are projects that work and would fit into GTD. And historical question that I have for you. GTD now is this massive thing that has a life in and of itself. But when you first started it, in the very beginning stages, as you were creating and crafting this, was it something that you were crafting for yourself? Or were you working with and consulting with people and crafting it for those people?
David Allen: Yes. All of the above.
Bjork Ostrom: Both, and.
David Allen: Yeah. Both and. When I started this, I uncovered some stuff, because I’d gotten sort of enthralled by clear space, both in my martial arts practices, meditation practices and so forth. And then discovered it is pretty easy to screw that space up as you got more complex and got more professional and got more intricate in terms of the things you were involved in your life and your commitments. And so I was first of all, wow, as I discover techniques that help me keep a clear head and allowed me to get rid of a lot of the pressure that was on my mind, turned around and turned out that what I uncovered worked exactly the same for everybody I was working with as a consultant and as a coach.
And it was like, “Wow, all I had to do was get stuff out of my head, make these decisions, park some things and build some trusted system and I’ve got more control and more focus in my life.” Whatever you’re using that for. So my work was not about trying to tell people what they should do. My work was trying to help them get clear so they could make much better decisions about what they wanted to do, which to me was the most elegant kind of consulting and coaching I could do.
Bjork Ostrom: And when you say, “Getting clear,” can you explain what that means? I think that’s a really important takeaway and want to make sure that we spend some time on that, getting clear on what it is that you want to do.
David Allen: Yeah. Well, if you’re having a significant conversation with someone, you don’t want to have your mind go somewhere else. You want to be present. If you don’t watch your girl play soccer, and not be on your smartphone, you had damn well better make sure there’s no reason to have to be on your smartphone.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
David Allen: Right? So it’s all about sort of being … The big secret is, Bjorn, it’s not about getting things done so much as it’s about being appropriately engaged with all of your commitments in life so you feel comfortable about taking a nap, having a beer, or cooking spaghetti, or sitting down and crafting the crappy first draft of this next big article you need to write. Whatever it is. And so it’s being able to sort of feel free enough to point that part of you that actually gets things done, without complicating it with things that it’s distracted about, things that are not handling, open loops that it doesn’t trust that can be managed. And that’s that sort of internal committee that’ll beat you up internally if you haven’t managed that well.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I remember the first time. So I’ve read Getting Things Done. I’ve also listened to the audio book. The first time that I was listening to the audio book, that was one of the things that it was almost like my shoulders relaxed a little bit when I got to this part where you were talking about … You gave an example I think it was about painting and how you like to paint and how when you paint, you want to make sure that the space and time that you have for that you are fully engaged with it. And it was this realization for me that getting things done isn’t about getting all of the work stuff accomplished. Getting things done also means clearing the space to be fully present at dinner.
And that’s such a human, relatable thing. And I think if people confuse it for just being able to accomplish a bunch of work stuff, then you’re sacrificing one of the best elements of it, which is clearing things for those things that would be considered more personal. And I know that’s something that you talk a lot about and would be interesting to hear more thoughts on that.
David Allen: Yeah, well that’s why I wrote the second edition, because the second edition really more addressed that fact. Because productivity has got a lot of baggage as a word. And when we first published this in 2000, the target market were the fast track professionals that were being hit by the tsunami of email and so forth, and so we knew those were going to be the ripest audience to take to this. So a lot of how I wrote it and the framework I wrote it in sort of addressed it to those levels of folks.
But the truth is, Getting Things Done is about whatever you want to get done. If you want to take a nap to relax, and you can’t go to sleep, you’re unproductive. You go to a party to boogie and you don’t boogie, that’s an unproductive party. So again, trying to reframe the word productivity, just call achieve desired results, that desired result may be have fun with my family tonight cooking spaghetti. That result could be, “Oh my God, I love doing nothing.” As a matter of fact, a lot of the maturity, a hallmark of the maturity with my methodology is how easily can you do nothing? And that’s hard for most people to do.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain what you mean by that? What it looks like to do nothing?
David Allen: Yeah, do nothing. And have nothing encroaching on your consciousness. That’s, “Oh, I’ve got to….” It’s like it’s the problem most people have when they first try to do meditation or mindfulness training or anything like that. It’s like, “Oh my God, how many places does my mind go?” That monkey in mind that’s going to say, “Oh my God, I need cat food. Oh my God, what about that? And what about…” So just shutting the monkey up is kind of a basic primer of all of this stuff called shut the monkey up so that some part of you can relax and listen to deeper levels. Meditation is not really about shutting the mind off, it’s about closing down some part of the world so you can pay attention to much more subtle parts of your world.
Bjork Ostrom: And would that be related to the concept of mind like water?
David Allen: Sure.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and can you talk about mind like water and what that looks like?
David Allen: Yeah, it just says that you’re not over or under-reacting to things. As soon as you have a second thought called, “I need cat food,” you’re inappropriately engaged with your cat. “I need cat food?” What the hell are you going to do with that? How about write it on a Post-It, stick it on the front of your fridge so whoever goes to the store next buys cat food? Then it’s off your mind. Then you’re not sitting there trying to meditate and thinking, “Oh Jesus, I need cat food.” I mean, in a way it’s that simple. But even as simple as that is, most people don’t do anywhere near close to all the things they could do. Most people have no idea how many things they actually commit to internally.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and that’s amazing when you become aware of the recurring thoughts that you have as it relates to things you need to do, how much brain space those actually take up, and the repeat thoughts are wasted thoughts, and so then what do you do with those? And GTD addresses a lot of that. One of the things … Go ahead.
David Allen: Well, your head’s a crappy office. And that’s the problem is most people try to keep and manage and prioritize and manage relationships inside their head with all that stuff. And your brain did not evolve to do that. It evolved to remember and remind and manage priorities and relationships between about four things max. And that’s how it survived on the Savannah and in the jungles and the whatever is … But that’s a very present part of your mind, survival part that does that very well. But as soon as you add other things to that, you now sub-optimize your mental capacity. You’ll be driven by latest and loudest as soon as you have any more of that internally in your mind, and not into some sort of trusted system that you engage with appropriately.
Bjork Ostrom: And that was going to be actually the next question. In GTD, you talk a lot about an idea of a trusted system. And what are the components of a trusted system that people need to implement?
David Allen: Well, you need to decide all the things you might want to do in any context, have those parked some place in some sort of a list or some sort of place that when you’re going out for errands, you see all the errands you need to run.
You’re going to the grocery store, you see all the things you need to buy. You’re having a conversation with your life partner, you see all the things you’ve thought of about which talking to your life partner is the next step. And you see all those in some trusted place so that your mind doesn’t have to keep reminding you, “Hey, you need to make sure, don’t forget … and don’t forget.” Come on, give me a break. If anybody listening to this is keeping a calendar or a diary or a schedule, they’re already admitting your head can’t do it. So all I did was just say, “Okay, let’s take that to its extreme,” or, “Let’s take it to its logical conclusion.”
It says, “Look, if you want your head clear, you need to make sure you’ve got all the things you might need to see at any point in time in some trusted place that you will pull up and look at when it’s time to talk to your partner, when it’s time to go out for errands, when it’s time to walk into your board meeting, when it’s time to do anything.” You can see all the things that you might need to consider as options so that you’re optimally engaged and you’re fully present with whatever you’re doing.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m guessing this is a question that comes up a lot and within the written material at least that I noticed that you’re intentional to not give specific examples of what those could be. But I know that one of the questions people have is, what would you recommend for that system? Is there a specific tool, software, should I do an analog? Do you have any advice for people in terms of where they should look first.
David Allen: Oh, great advice called, “Keep it out of your head anywhere that you trust, that you’ll use.” It can be low tech, mid tech or high tech. Low tech would be just keep a file folder with all the errands you need to run on pieces of paper, or calls you need to make. Could be mid tech, you have a loose leaf planner or a notebook where you have a page that says Errands and you just keep track of that. Could be high tech, you have any kind of those high tech list manager apps and there are hundreds out there now, showing up weekly, based on my model.
Bjork Ostrom: I was just going to say that. A lot of them, the one that I use, specifically, is an app called Things and the whole concept is around getting things done. It’s funny to look at the interface for it and then look at some of the common threads within GTD, like the idea of a Someday Maybe list. And there’s literally a default folder just called Someday. For you that are listening to the podcast, as you start to explore and look at the possibilities within GTD, there are those book analog, people that have written about analog solutions as well as software solutions that you can look into that are kind of-
David Allen: All you need are lists, so whatever manages lists for you. If you’re already a digital geek freak and you love lists on your computer, fine. I know Excel freaks that just use Excel for all lists. They manage it with macros and with all kinds of things, just sort the things in various … you know.
Bjork Ostrom: God bless them.
David Allen: Why not? I know people that simply use Word and use Word documents for their lists. Whatever, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s accessible to you, easy to get into and easy to access as you need it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. And let’s talk about the lists. There’s different types of lists that you should be interacting with and that should be a part of your trusted system. For somebody, let’s say, if they are building their analog solution or maybe they’re doing it within Word, constructing something on their own, what are the things that they need to create as the bucket for the main lists as they’re building their trusted system?
David Allen: In addition to your calendar which is a very important list, what are the things you need to be aware of or do on a specific day or time so that’s one. And then all the things that you need to do as Next Actions in and around the things you have to do on your calendar should be on at least one list just called Next Actions: calls to make, websites to surf, stuff to buy at the store, stuff to talk to people about. So you could have, quite simply, just one Next Action list. You need a Waiting For list, what are all the things I’m waiting on to come back from somebody else. You also need a list of all the Projects, any one of those actions that can’t finish whatever it’s about, you need a list of your projects. So a Project List, your calendar, your own Next Action list, in addition to your calendared items, and a Waiting For list, pretty much is, in terms of the raw content or the raw categories, those are the key elements.
Now the truth is, the Next Action list for most people, if you’re actually going to be really rigorous with figuring out all the Next Actions in all your open loops, most people have over 100 or 150. So if you had all those on one list, that could be a little daunting. So over the years, we’ve discovered eight helps to subsort your Next Action list and the calls to make, errands to run, things to talk to people about. So there are some sub categories of your Next Actions that sometimes makes it simpler to deal with all that stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s some key concepts in GTD that I would consider applicable anywhere concepts. Like if you were to walk through the GTD buffet and you were to pick these up, it would still taste great on its own or you could have it as part of the entire GTD meal. I would love to hit each of those and have you explain it a little bit because I think our listeners could take a lot away from even just some of these bite-sized pieces.
The first is this idea of a two minute rule. So if you have a task that doesn’t take too long, addressing that quickly. Can you talk more about that and why that’s important?
David Allen: Sure. If you can finish it in two minutes or less, it would take you longer to track it, and organize it, and review it than it would be to finish it. It’s a simple efficiency factor. Anything you figure out that the next step could be done in two minutes or less, wherever you are, if you just walked around your apartment, your flat, your house, or whatever right now and said, “Oh, God, that light bulb, it just needs changing.” Where you live is going to improve significantly if you just implement the two minute rule.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. It reminds me of, it was an Onion article that my friend sent me. It says, “Picking thing up from apartment floor, rescheduled for Thursday.” I’ll send it to you after, but I feel like it’s exactly what we’re talking about where it could be moved on so quickly. The quote here from the person says, “I’m super swamped right now, lots of stuff going on, so it’s going to be really tough for me to fit it in today,” he said, "Moving this small object which would take two minutes. The next few days are booked solid, the second half of the week is a lot more realistic-
David Allen: That’s funny.
Bjork Ostrom: … I’ll see how Thursday morning looks.“ But I feel like that’s exactly what it’s addressing some can relate to that. Myself included, just today I thought, ”I need to …,“ we sold a car. I need to remove that from our insurance and I almost went into make a little note to say, ”Remove car from insurance,“ and I said, ”You know what? I can take care of this while I’m getting lunch ready with my phone on speaker phone." And it literally took 65 seconds to call the insurance agent. I used Siri to make the call and to remove it. I think that little thing to jump over the hurtle of not doing it-
David Allen: Believe me, I’ve had serious heavy weight executives tell me it was worth the price of admission for all of my consulting, just the two minute rule. If they hadn’t implemented it already, gave them an extra six months to their lives.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure. So I feel like that is one that is a massive takeaway for people and can have a big impact. The other one that I really like is this idea of gathering all of your open loops. So what does that mean? What is an open loop? And what does it look like to process through all of those and document them?
David Allen: Anything on your mind you can’t finish while you’re thinking about it. That’s an open loop. That’s, oh, I need cat food. Oh, I need to do that. Oh, here’s something I want to add, maybe here’s a thought I might want to blog about. Here’s a … anything like that. So all those things where you say, I might, would, could, should, ought to do or decide something about this. If you can’t finish that activity right then, that’s what you need to capture and get it out of the office in your head and get it into some sort of external system. Write it down, if nothing else, record it. Write it on your arm, record it on your iPhone, whatever you need to do.
Capture that thing, get it out of your head. Otherwise, when you file it back in your head, that part of you doesn’t have much of a sense of past or future so it then keeps thinking that you should, you need to, I ought to, I need to, I need to … 24/7. And it’ll wake you up at 3:00 AM with that, “Oh, God, I need to,” and you can’t do anything about it. The whole idea is to externalize this out of that space. So that’s the capture function, is anything that you might have any intention on doing something about, not even that you committed to do something about, but you might. That’s what you need to capture and to get it out of your head. Write it down, stick it in some external bucket.
Bjork Ostrom: And the thing that I’ve found so interesting is, what you talked about this idea of the mind not being good at understanding past or future and how that applies to the thing that you need to do. By the simple act of recording that thing and giving it the appropriate space within your trusted system, if that does ping in your mind, you can say, “No, I don’t need to handle or process or understand that right now. It’s in its place and I trust where it is and so I can release that. I can let that go and appropriately engage with what I have right now.” And if it’s not there, then you make sure that you put it in there.
David Allen: It takes about two months for most people once they start to catch this methodology because some part of their psyche actually starts to really trust them.
Bjork Ostrom: Part of it too, and this would be another thing I’d be interested to hear you talk about, part of it isn’t even that you say now I know that I’m going to do this and move on it, but just that I’ve recorded it and put it into what’s called a Someday or Maybe folder. Can you talk about what the Someday Maybe folder is and why that’s important?
David Allen: Yeah. There’s all those kind of things I might want to do, I just don’t have the bandwidth, or resources, or interest at the moment to move on it, but I don’t want to lose the idea. That could look like a gazillion things. I use Evernote for all kinds of lists that I keep as reference. I have every single restaurant I’ve ever eaten in around the world for the last 35 years that I’d ever want to eat in again. Those are, in a sense, a Someday Maybe. If I go back to New Zealand or if I go back to Germany or if I go back to Dublin, here’s a place that I might want to go eat at. So keeping track of all those things, it’s not like you’re going to die if you don’t keep track of those things. But how cool could it be if you kept track of all the Someday Maybe things you might want to do and review them regularly.
A lot of my Someday Maybes is simply because I have them on the Someday Maybe list, I look at it somewhat consistently just show up simply because I keep looking at, “Hey, take a balloon ride.” A number of things I’ve done in my life started on my Someday Maybe list. I kept looking at them, I go, “You know, now it’s time to activate that and make that a real thing.” It’s like not losing any good ideas. I had a very sophisticated guy who caught onto my methodology was a senior, senior consultant, one of the top consultant firms in the world frankly. He said the Someday Maybe list was his big aha because he kept having how many creative ideas of things he could do with clients that he was working with, but he felt overwhelmed and jammed and he stopped the process.
Once he created a Someday Maybe list, he said, “Wow,” it opened his flow again of creative ideas because he didn’t have to commit to doing them, but he didn’t want to lose the possibility that that might be a creative thing to do at some point in the right context. So it just opened up his flow again in terms of his creativity, just having a place to be able to say, “Okay, let me capture that. Let me do that.” And there’s a gazillion kinds of Someday Maybes, all the movies that I might want to see, books I might want to read or recipes I might want to try. All of that.
Bjork Ostrom: I think another thing that it’s done for me is that, I can occasionally get into an idea or a creative log jam. And that happens when I have ideas or thoughts that are in my head that I continually try to hold onto so I don’t lose them. Once I put them into … again, it doesn’t have to be something that I’m taking action on, but once I record that and say, “I know that this good idea has a safe storage spot that could be the Someday Maybe list.” Then I can free my mind up to think about those other things. So for me, as well, it’s been a really influential thing to have. I can go back, revisit it, I can be reminded of those things, but I don’t need to, again, hold them in my head.
David Allen: I actually have a list of all the things that I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with it. Ideas I don’t know what the hell to do with. For instance, relaction I think is such a great word and I have no idea what to do with it. But I captured it years ago. It’s still there, relaction, what a great word. There’s got to be some way that I might want to use it. I still have no frigging idea what I’m going to do with it. So it’s great to have a list of stuff I don’t know what to do with.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And to have it and to revisit it and there might be a time, sometime in the future, where you do know what to do with it. But for now, it’ll stay there and it’ll be safe and tidy for when the time comes when you need it.
David Allen: What it does, it unclogs your creative thinking process. It allows you the freedom to have whatever ideas you want about anything and not lose them. Because many of those ideas, you won’t understand the value of that idea for who knows how long. So giving yourself permission to essentially be the radio antenna, where do your ideas come from? The music’s not in the radio. At some point you have an idea, well, where did that come from? What you might do with it, well, whatever. Maybe the muse tapped you, but you don’t know what to do with it yet.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s actually something we’ve talked about before, this idea of the muse. There’s a couple different ways that that concept is … there’s a couple different books that I really like. One is a book that my wife, Lindsay, read called Big Magic. It talks about this idea that comes to you and how you handle that and what you do with it. Another one is The War of Art and it talks about the power of doing and-
David Allen: Well, Steven’s a great guy, he’s a friend. I have that book.
Bjork Ostrom: GTD and War of Art are recurring themes on the podcast. What I appreciate about it is the proper respect that is given to an idea and in some ways almost the being that it is and treating that with respect and I feel like something like GTD does that or gives it a safe place and in safe keeping. Another concept that … this is an area where I’m trying to refine. I will be taking close notes as you talk about this. The idea of a weekly review. Specifically what I appreciate about a weekly review is viewing our work not just as tasks that we’re doing, but especially with knowledge work with so many people that listen to this podcast fall into that category, with knowledge work, some of the work that we do is thinking about and processing the work that we do which doesn’t feel like work. And I think the weekly review can be that and yet how valuable it is when I do it. What is a weekly review and how can people do that well?
David Allen: It just means blow the whistle, stop, get off the carousel, pull up the rear guard and say, "Okay, let me get current. Of all the things that have happened, let me locate myself in place and time again because the world’s been crazy. Let me look backwards, let me look forwards, let me locate myself, let me see if I’m in the right place and the right time. Let me make sure I’m current with new things that have changed, new events that have shown up, new things that have popped in to my world.
Basically it’s like most people feel best about their job a week before they go on a big holiday. It’s not about the holiday. It’s about what they’re doing so they can go on the holiday: “Well, I’m getting clear. I’m getting current. I’m getting complete. I’m clarifying and I’m going to say, ‘Oh wait. They’ll handle the dog while I’m gone, and these projects can wait till I’m back but these can’t, so I’m going to hand this off to these three people to make sure they’re …’” Yeah. Just do it weekly, not yearly. It’s really that kind of regrouping event that is probably the most needed and the most lacking, review operationally processed out there in the world. It is, as you probably know, the biggest habit to change, the biggest habit to install, hardest one to keep because you never feel like you have time to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yet, similar to the Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter so I wrote a long one instead,” I feel like the weekly review is the same where the less time you have, the more important it is, which is a little counterintuitive. If you are so crunched for time that you don’t have time for a weekly review, it probably means that you need to do that even more so because your time is…
David Allen: It’s like when you least feel like you can plan is when you most need to plan.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes.
David Allen: Same thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. One of the things that I’ve found to be really valuable, when I do my weekly review, it’s just this idea of stepping back and processing through not only my digital inbox, those things that I quickly put in … ideas that I have that I want to process later but also a physical inbox. I think that’s another really important takeaway from GTD is this idea of when you have something that comes up, address that as quickly as possible but don’t necessary process that. Can you talk about the role of the inbox both digital and physical?
David Allen: You need a place to hold things until you can really decide what it means, and capturing is very different than clarifying and organizing. That’s the problem is most people implode all that as one thing: I need to get organized. They then conflate or, I don’t know what the word is, inflate, they are … Implode’s the best thing. Look, here’s all my meeting notes I need to get organized. Well, right. The meeting notes are something … that was your capture function. That’s very cool. You identified a whole lot of things that might need to have something done with them. But then you need to just throw those in some place that sooner than later you’re going to go through and then clean them up. Which of those meeting notes do you need to keep as reference? Which can you throw away as trash now because you don’t need those? And which ones indicate an action or a project that you’ve now committed to? And then clarify those. That’s really all it is.
An in-basket is just a place for me to be able to throw the mail, throw the FedEx box, throw the receipts I came back with, throw the business cards I collected at the conference I just went to. I just throw all that crap in there because I don’t want to have to think about it right now. That’s not my process. Once I sit down and hold the world back, the demons at the gate, now it’s time for me to sit down and clean that up. What does that business card mean? I throw away 90% of them, but some of them I go, “Oh yeah, that’s worth putting in my system because that’s a cool thing.”
But that’s a very different process in and of itself, so I need to make sure I do that in its appropriate timing, but I need to make sure I’ve captured all that stuff in some place other than just spread all over my briefcase or spread all over my desk or spread all over my life. You need to make sure you’ve got some funnel that funnels all that stuff into so that it then gets me sooner than later then clean up that funnel. It’s like emptying your garbage, emptying your mailbox, emptying … But you want the freedom to be able to toss anything in there.
So I over-capture. I throw away probably 80 or 90% of my notes. I just don’t know which notes I’m going to throw away when I’m writing them. When I’m writing them, I think I’m brilliant and think all of them are great. I had too much wine when I wrote that, though. So in the morning, I’m going, “Yeah, come on David. Grow up. You’re not going to do that,” so I throw it away. So I over-capture, but then 10% of those things are the coolest things I’ve created in my life.
Bjork Ostrom: And those are the ones that then you take from the inbox and appropriately process and say, “Is this a project? What does it look like?” Then assign it that next step.
David Allen: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Now that I’ve validated this as being something I want to do and is important, what is that tiny, little incremental step that I need to take in order to move forward on this project which I think…
David Allen: You’ve just identified the next little magic pill of the GTD process is the next action thinking.
Bjork Ostrom: And idea being with that, we can have these grandiose ideas, buy a cabin, and we never do them because they’re grandiose. But grandiose ideas always have tiny, little incremental steps that build up to the completion of them so breaking that down. One of the questions that I would have, and I’m sure other people have, is how far out do you break up the tiny steps? So buying a cabin, hundreds of steps involved, how far out makes sense to build that ladder that you need to walk up in order to accomplish that goal? Is it just one? Is it three? Is it as many as you can think of?
David Allen: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: To all of it.
David Allen: As many as you need to get it off your mind.
Bjork Ostrom: That might be just one. It could be the next step that you…
David Allen: I’m just going to search the web and see where cabins are. That’s it. I don’t need to go any further than that. It could be I’ve decided I want to buy a cabin in the Northern Lights area in the north of Norway so I can see the Northern Lights. I know this is where I want to go, and here’s all the things I need to consider. So I’m going to create an ideal scene about all the features and aspects of this cabin that I want to have. You do as much as you need to do to get that off your mind. You don’t want to stop anything. Have as many thoughts as you want about any of these things. Frankly, all you need to do to really appropriately engage with anything is make sure that you have a confident next action that you need to take and you park that somewhere you trust you’ll see at the right time.
Bjork Ostrom: I work with a business coach. I worked with a business coach. His name is Kevin. He was actually on the podcast, Kevin Waldron. He’s a GTD practitioner. That was one of the things that we talked about. I said, “Hey, I’m interviewing David. Would there be anything that you want me to ask him?” He said, “Yes, actually.” This is one of our first user or listener-sourced questions. He has a question about this idea of directional ambiguity. He said, “I’ve heard you mention in a previous interview the idea of directional ambiguity. Can you say about more about what that is?”
David Allen: I have no idea what that means.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.
David Allen: Directional ambiguity? I have no … It’s a fabulous idea. Let me think for a minute what I might have said about that. Directional ambiguity? I don’t know. I-
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like the term itself is so intriguing.
David Allen: Probably it had to do with … Look, all you have to do is start moving in some sort of direction, and you don’t have to have anything particularly included in it. You just need to get going. A lot of it has to do with the old top gun, maverick: engage, engage, engage. Just get going. Just start to take an action and then see what happens. Maybe that’s what I was referring to. Otherwise, I have no idea.
Bjork Ostrom: I pulled up … This is the context that he had around it. He said, “It’s a bit esoteric but here’s the background. I heard him say it on an interview. It’s rolled around my head forever like a bloody zen cone I can’t solve.”
David Allen: Come on, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: He said, “I think it has to do with goalless goals or a pathless path setting off in a direction without a specific endpoint, but the point was just to start moving in the direction of your interest.”
David Allen: Yeah, makes sense. From my experience in my 72.6 years is that we’re teleological beings, that we exist essentially purposeful. We’re all attempting to be something, do something, express something, expand into something, whatever. You can’t stop that. Just try. You can’t. So that directionality is going to be pushing or pulling on you no matter what. Sometimes the best thing to do is relax and just let that pull you where it goes. Paul McCartney said he never had a plan or goal in his life and he did okay.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, right.
David Allen: But that’s not really true given my context. There were things he wanted to do, visions he had, things that … Obviously he couldn’t have created what he did and done what he accomplished without some sort of a sense of, “Okay, I want to make sure this sound sounds this way or that this song does this thing or whatever.” So those are real. There is a directionality that I think is inherent in our just psychic DNA no matter what. So you don’t have to figure it all out. Just get in the flow. Where do you want to go right now? I just want to go walk in the park. I just want to take a nap. I don’t want to do all those other things I tell myself. Great, go do those. If you really had the courage to go actually do what you just feel like doing, what you feel like doing will change. Have the guts to just go do what you feel like doing and then see what happens. That’s a courageous place to operate from.
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like, as we head to the end here, it’s a great concept to think about as we wrap up. I think having some type of system around you in order to help you do that is such a powerful thing, and I think GTD does that. For those that aren’t familiar or would like to take the next step, what is your recommendation for the best way to start to learn more about this? Obviously, there’s the book. I talked about the Lynda course that I did and the audiobook I’ve listened to, but do you have a recommendation for where people can take the next step after listening to this interview if they want to learn more?
David Allen: If you go to our website, gettingthingsdone.com, you’ll see lots of ways to play. It depends on where you are on the planet. It lists all of our global partners and franchisees that are actually doing GTD trainings around the world, VitalSmarts in the US and Canada and then lots of other partners in 60 countries in multiple regions around the world. If you’re interested in participating in that level of game, which I would highly recommend, go check those out, see where those things are going on, and check in with those partners who are delivering those. You’ll see links to those on that site.
Obviously, the book, the new edition of “Getting Things Done.” Hey, come on. That’s the manual. I wrote the whole thing. It’s all in there. That’s a way to do it. There’s a free newsletter we’ve got and podcasts and so forth. We have a membership, GTD Connect, if you want to … the subscription model where you get in to very deep stuff. There’s lots of people playing it at deeper levels of this game. There’s ways to play. You can just surf around. Have fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Great.
David Allen: Just go surf around. Go to gettingthingsdone.com. That’ll give you a good sense of options.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to all of those in the show notes and the email that we send out. David, it was an honor for me to talk with you. I’ve brought up Getting Things Done so many times on the podcast. Alexa, who helps manage it, was like, “We just got to get David on so you can get it straight from David what it’s all about.” We’ve done that. It was just a joy to talk to you, so thanks so much for coming on.
David Allen: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for the invitation. Happy to come back anytime.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks a lot.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hello wonderful listener. Alexa here bringing you the reviewer of the week. But first, how great was that episode with David Allen? I know that Bjork just really respects and appreciates the Getting Things Done methodology, and I really encourage you to check out the book. I actually just ordered it off of Amazon myself, so I’m really excited to check it out.
Our reviewer of the week comes from Lauren from lilliandora.com on iTunes. It says, “My friend introduced me to Food Blogger Pro about six months and thank goodness she did. I have learned so much from this podcast, and they have greatly helped me to increase my reach. I own all of the tasty plugins and they rock. I feel like I know Bjork, and I can’t wait to tune in every week. Thank you for the awesome content, and I can’t wait to hear more.” Thank you Lauren. What a great review. If any of you want to be featured in this section of an upcoming podcast episode, all you have to do is leave a review for us on iTunes. You can go to iTunes. Type in the Food Blogger Pro podcast and click, ‘Write a review.’ Then you just read it, leave a review with your name and blog name, and you, yes, you, can be featured in an upcoming podcast episode.
That is all from us this week. We’ll be back here, same time, same place. Until then, make it a great week.
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