How to Get the Right Things Done w/David Allen

Prosci bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.

Hosted by Morten Kamp Anderse

We tend to think about personal productivity as doing more things more effectively – being able to optimize work processes, time schedules and to-do-lists. That is often not the case. In fact, personal productivity is about doing the right things rather than to do more things. It’s about having a clear mind, when you run a busy life – and most importantly: How to get things done. 

David Allen is wildly recognized as the world's leading authority on personal and organizational productivity. During the past 30 years, he has conducted pioneering research, coached and educated some of the world's highest performing professionals. He is here to help us get [the right] things done. 


  • What is productivity, actually? It’s not time management, for sure. 
  • Why the daily to do lists don't work. Your life is too much of a surprise. 
  • Why the next step is the most important one. 
You don’t have to think through the whole thing before you decide the next thing to do
David Allen


#1 Productivity is really just about doing what is most important to you. Don’t let yourself be misled by the words 'personal productivity'; it’s not about being more efficient at work, measuring everything, or trying to achieve. It is about making sure that you are prioritizing what you think is most important in your life. So for instance, if you go on a vacation to relax, then relaxing is the most productive outcome. Or if you choose to spend more time with your kids, then it is considered unproductive to check your e-mail in their presence. 

#2 Clear your head. David Allen believes that we should empty our minds by capturing all your projects on paper, identify the first or next step and actually start doing the tasks that matter most to you - instead of just thinking about them. In fact, a lot of what keeps us awake at night or what gets us all stressed out, is that we desperately try to remember our mental to do-lists. We can't and we shouldn't. 

#3 Find out what works for you. David has designed a whole system, which identifies how to capture, how to sort, how to manage tasks etc. But that system may not work for all. In fact, he suggests that you find a system that works for you and then follow that. 



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Sun, 3/7 8:07AM • 52:06


people, head, methodology, life, gtd, create, thinking, tool, list, project, structured, appropriately, clear, productivity, capture, steps, implement, monkeys, day, manage


David Allen, Morten Andersen

Morten Andersen  00:05

Hello, and welcome to What Monkeys Do. My name is Morten Kamp Andersen. And this is a podcast about what it takes to make a change and make it stick.

Morten Andersen  00:21

In this episode of What Monkeys Do, I speak with David Allen, who is the world's leading expert on personal productivity, why productivity and a podcast about change? Well, there are two things which prevents us from making a change. The first is not prioritizing what is most important to us. And the second is not having a clear mind. That is we have too many thoughts in our head. David Allen has made a system called Getting Things Done. It involves five steps, one, capture all of your tasks. Two clarify what kind of task it is. Three, organize your tasks in projects, calendar and next items. Four, reflect through regular reviews, and five engage in your tasks. Why this is the world's most used system why can it help us focus on what is most important to us? and why this can help us change? Well, let's find out in this episode of What Monkeys Do. My guest today is wildly recognized as the world's leading authority on personal and organizational productivity is 30 years of pioneering research coaching, educating some of the world's highest performing professionals, has earned him Forbe's recognition as one of the top five executive coaches in the United States Fast Company has called him one of the world's most influential thinkers in the area of personal productivity, and Time Magazine label his first book Getting Things Done as the defining self help business book of the decade. He's the author of three books, the phenomenon and international bestseller Getting Things Done. But he's also written Ready for Anything, and Making It All Work. He is also by the way, one of the few non celebrities with over a million followers on Twitter. Welcome to you, David Allen.

David Allen  02:16

Thank you, Morten. Thanks for the invitation. Glad.

Morten Andersen  02:19

Yeah, I really look forward to this. So What Monkeys Do is a podcast about change. And change is often about focusing your time and your energy on something new. And you have invented the most widely used personal productivity methodology there is, but there will be some of our listeners who don't know what getting things done is about. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and about what getting things done is about?

David Allen  02:46

Sure. Let me start with the second part, what getting things done as about is just the best practices that I've discovered, over the last really 40 years now, about how do you stay clear when you've got a busy life, full of volume and velocity of things coming at you decisions you have to make. And being able to serve on top of that, instead of feeling overwhelmed by it or having that create what I now refer to as the ambient anxiety of so much to do not sure you're doing the right thing. And being able to stay clear, really more about than anything else. And so I just discovered, I didn't really make them up more than I recognize the best practices we do, that actually gets our head clear, without having to complete all the things you think you want to do without having to finish your to do list. But it's really about being appropriately engaged with whatever all your commitments are. So I just discovered the very specific, both principles, and then practices about how do I recognize my commitments? How do I clarify them? How do I make sure I create a trusted external brain so I don't have to trust my mind to remember remind, prioritize or manage relationships because it's, it didn't evolve to do that doesn't do it very well. But external brains do if you do them, right. And so I just discovered how to do that. And I got there because I kind of discovered the value and practical value of clearspace early on, or getting a black belt in karate. You have to learn how to get clear fast. If you don't want 2000 unprocessed emails hanging around your psyche if you're jumped by four people at once at once. So you know staying clear and the all the mindfulness people focus on your breathing. I learned that 40 years ago in the martial arts, so I had an attraction to clear space also on the freedom kind of guy. I love to be spontaneous follow my intuitive hunches, etc. But it's my life as I started to take all my different careers and professions and jobs I'd had and meld it in the tip just like a consulting practice back in 1982. I discovered my life got more complex and complicated. And I said wait a minute, how do I stay clear because I love clear amidst all that. And so I started uncovering these techniques for myself first, and then it turned out it they work so well to create more clarity, more focus more space to focus on meaningful things, turn around and use those with my clients produce the same results, those same practices produced exactly the same thing, more stability, more control, more of a sense of now, it's easier to know what my priorities are, easier to leave work earlier, you know, it's easy to spend more time to be more present in my life, and all the good value that that can bring. And then that got discovered by somebody in the big corporate world. They said, Wow, we need that in our whole Corporation does Can you design a training around that, so I did it work successfully. And so from 1983, on, I spent literally 1000s of hours training hundreds of 1000s of people coaching, hundreds and hundreds and spending 1000s of hours desk, cyber, some of the busiest and brightest folks you'd ever meet on the planet, actually implementing and refining this methodology, I didn't really realize what I realized until I finally, you know, 25 years later, it took me that long to figure out that what I'd figured out was unique, and nobody else seemed to have done it. And that I better write the manual. So that's what I wrote, Getting Things Done.

Morten Andersen  06:02

So one of the key fundamentals of this methodology is that you need to get everything out of your head, because that's a bad place to store it, I think you have a saying something like, your brain is for making ideas, not for keeping them. So it is to get everything out of your head,

David Allen  06:18

and you have 50,000 thoughts a day, I defy anybody to write down 50,000 things a day, you're not doing that. But anything that's potentially meaningful, that you think you might still need to decide or do something about that you can't finish in the moment it happens. That's what you need to capture. So all of that needs to be out of your head. If you don't, it spins around in your head. So you have a, you know, concept of monkeys who believe me talking about monkey in your head, I need capital that I did hire vice president should we adopt? Should we get divorced, should we, you know, yadda yadda, and those things will spin like crazy and create that ambient anxiety that is that you can't, you can't find one single source for it. But you started to use your head as a really bad office, you know, to try to manage all that. It's a terrible executive.

Morten Andersen  07:04

I mean, one of the things that I discovered when I lay in bed, and I have to say, Oh, I have to remember that tomorrow, I have to write an email to him. And so if you actually have written that down somewhere, your mind will not be frantically trying to, to remember that all the time.

David Allen  07:18

As long as you trust, you'll see where you wrote it down at the appropriate time. So that's why there are several steps to making sure you get clear you have to capture it, clarify what specifically you need to do about it, and then park it in some trusted system. And the trusted system means I've got to put it in a place, I'll trust I'd see it like I trust, I see my calendar to see that I need to be talking to David Allen today. And then you need to step back and make sure you're looking at all that context and content, you know, appropriately, so that you're feeling a lot more comfortable about what you're doing.

Morten Andersen  07:50

So without going into all of the nitty gritty is essentially a methodology, there are five steps and one of them is to capture everything. So it is to get things out of your head and capture it. And then it is to decide is this something I can take action on? Is that a project with multiple steps and essentially creating a methodology around all of the stuff that you that you need to do? And you say that you came up with it? Or you're you discovered this over a long time? And there's obviously been time management systems before that? Why does this have the impact that it did?

David Allen  08:22

Probably because I never had any formal or traditional education in business psychology or time management. Absolutely no preconditions myself about what you need to do to stay clear, while you're, you know, in a busy life. And so I kind of came to this from the street, you know, and just my own experience with it. And then to find out that, but a lot of the time management stuff says, Well, you need to set your priorities, you need to have ABC, you need to create a daily to do list and a lot of other things like that, that just frankly didn't work. You know, they they work if you had nothing else to do but organize your life that way. Most people are a lot busier than that. And quite frankly, you know, you have as many priorities as you have different things you do today. Yes, what this methodology does is it starts with where you are not with where you should be. And most of the time management stuff starts with where you should be. But if your day to day, ordinary life is feeling out of control, and unfocused, trying to focus on the future and something, you're just going to create more guilt and frustration. It doesn't mean you shouldn't focus on that. No, those are great things to focus on. But just if your attention is being grabbed by stuff that you're not managing appropriately, in your day to day, then Good luck, you know, trying to do the other thing, the higher horizon stuff as I've identified them, you know, why are you on the planet? You know, what's your ideal scenario in life and work and five years from now? And what are your you know, what do you need to accomplish over the next two to three years? And what are all the things you need to maintain in your life, like your health and your finances and your relationships? Were all the projects you have about all that? And then what are all the things you need to do about any of that stuff? Well, you got six horizons of commitments that everybody has, whether you're conscious Have them or not. And all of those are creating this incredibly complex variety and multiple, multiple levels of stuff that most people don't realize how complex their life is, they've allowed themselves to create in terms of what they've done. So what this methodology does just say, look, let's turn to get all of that under control, not control, like control the weather, or your kids or your boss, we could love talking about having something under control, like your car, or a meeting, or your desk, or your head or your kitchen and have it under control enough so that you feel like I'm in a stable situation where it gives me the freedom to then focus appropriately as I need to focus. So as I say, a lot of people shouldn't be setting goals, they need to clean their bathroom, it doesn't mean a goal, not a good thing. It just means if your bathroom is feeling out of control, or your kitchen, you know, you're gonna have a tough time focusing appropriately on the goals you need to set.

Morten Andersen  10:51

So many people, they would probably have an an email, you know, where they've put some flags or some priorities there, then they will have a to do list. And that's for many people, actually, the stuff of how they organize their lives, as things come in, they'll put something on their to do list and and maybe that's it, but Well, actually, you're suggesting that you should sit down and take a couple of days off, maybe even or a day off and just write everything, everything that is on your plate to get it out. So all of the projects, you may have all of the things that needs to be done in the in the house, all of the people, you need to call all of the things that you need to do all of that needs to come out once and for all. What's the purpose of that process?

David Allen  11:32

Empty your head, if it's still banging around in there, it's because you're not appropriately engaged with it. So what you need to do is identify the content that you need to start to appropriately engage with why's mom's birthday on your mind. Well, no, no, we're gonna do great. What's your outcome? What are you? What are you trying to accomplish? Well, we need to celebrate mom's birthday. Fabulous. Now you got a project? What's your next step? "Oh i don't know", yeah, that's right. So the problem is, is most people's to do lists create as much stress as they relieved, because they're still there reminding them, it's still an incomplete list of the stuff that has their attention. And not only that, whatever they captured is still unclear in terms of what we're going to do about it. So just remind you, you have decisions to make, you haven't you haven't made yet you got more thinking you need to do, you haven't finished your thinking. So it's still spinning in there. So now you got to some something out of your head, but it's still banging around in your head, because it's still more reminding you there's more to think about and more to decide.

Morten Andersen  12:25

Because the funny thing is because I went through that process, and I probably came up with about, I can't remember 70 or 80 projects. And a project in this terminology is essentially a thing you need to do where there are multiple steps for it to be completed. So if it's my mom's birthday, I needed to talk to my sisters about maybe buying a present together, then we need to find out what she wants than it is to buy it than it is to arrange a time to go and meet her and give her the present. And I had probably about close to hundreds of those projects

David Allen  12:56

most people have between 30 and 100.

Morten Andersen  12:58

Wow, it's amazing. And you would think that that would create even more stress, complexity or uncertainty, can I even do all of that, but it had the reverse effect. That was the funniest thing was that it actually gave a sense of are that's what I need to do. Now I just need to look at it and decide what to do and what not to do when in what order. And then that actually took away stress. That was an amazing experience. By the way,

David Allen  13:24

everybody listening or watching this, at some point has felt overwhelmed or confused and sat down and made a list and felt better. Yes. And nothing changed in their world.

Morten Andersen  13:32


David Allen  13:32

what changed was the most important thing, which is how they are engaged with their world changed, which is what you did described in a little more detail. But even in a very basic, mundane level, making list about anything, whether that's stuff you need to buy at the store, or whether it's stuff to deal with, with your mom, or all the stuff you got to do in terms of the new job that you've got, or now you've got to work from home because of the pandemic and what are all the things I need to deal with any and all that, you know, if you leave it in your head, you'll take as much cognitive real estate thinking about Je', I need to buy a desk as Je' How am I going to get my kids into the right education for the next two years? Yes, and they'll take up the same space if it's just in your head, because your head does not know how to calibrate all that stuff appropriately. your conscious mind does. That's why you need to make it conscious and objective. And then you just describe that process that you went through. And believe me, I spent many 1000s of hours with some of the best, brightest busiest people you'd ever meet, having them go through exactly what you just described. And it usually takes somewhere between and for most people, it takes one to six hours just to identify all the stuff that had to have attention on and then the rest of at least a couple of days usually to go through each one of those and make the appropriate decisions. So they don't have any more thinking they need to do about them. And then organize some sort of appropriate list manager, you know that that they can keep the list of reminders about people to call errands to run things to bring up to the board meeting projects they need to keep track of until they're done, etc That's what the process is. And what's strange Morten is, as you know, it's not rocket science unless you're in a rocket. These are not behaviors that people don't already know how to do. This is not a foreign language or some new technology. Everybody knows how to write stuff down. Everybody knows how to recognize, wait a minute, I've got my attention on that. What's that? mom's birthday gift, should we adopt, hire the Vice President of getting new mobile phone, grabbing those, that's not hard to do it what's, what's difficult is most people don't realize they should. And they just let them keep banging around in there. And there's no sense of past or future in that thing, talking about a journal or a monkey running around in your head because they don't stop. And they when they show up consciously, they go subliminal, but then they show up consciously, at very inappropriate times, you like at three o'clock in the morning about something, you can't do anything about it three o'clock in the morning, lying in bed, your brain that doesn't have one. It's not very smart.

Morten Andersen  15:56

And one thing is sort of creating an overview of what you need to do, obviously, it's also a system that you need to maintain. And there are different processes once a week you sit down and do your weekly review, so to speak, you look at your calendar, what's coming, what have you just been through what's you know, and so on. And you also have a monthly and quarterly review. How closely would you suggest that people should follow this exact process? Or how much should they add their own flavor to it. So when I read blocks, for instance, and how people are using this, many are adapting it to their own preferences, how much from what you have seen, have people benefited from following it strictly, or adapting it themselves 

David Allen  16:37

depends on what you mean by it. And you say follow it, specifically, if they keep it out of your head, absolutely. But out of here, how you do that, rather than your arm, you know, hire 12 people to follow you around and talk to them and have them keep track of it and remind you at the right times. I mean, frankly, I don't care how you do any of that. But the principle is absolutely inviolent. If it's in your head, it's in the wrong place. So how you customize, keeping it out of your head? That's up to you. All those things that you just mentioned, were over all the years, I just tried to curate basically, what are the some of the typical best practices that allow the typical kind of, you know, mid to senior level professional, actually, anybody with a busy life? How do they keep their head clear? You know, there's only one criterion, do you have any attention on anything you can't finish right now that's distracting you from what you've ever you're trying to be present about? If you don't, you've done it, I don't care how you get there. I just discovered the best way to get there. And don't kid yourself. If you think you've got a clear head simply by doing mindfulness openings around your breathing. You know, that's good stuff to do. I do that. But you know, that's, that's there's nothing wrong with that. But if you don't handle the things that you've got commitments about, that's why you have to keep working on focusing on your breathing, because you keep thinking about capitalism and the vice president need to hire and should you adopt, you know, why don't you get that stuff off your mind. So it gives you more space to do what your consciousness is better to do, which is to take advantage of meditative space, a reflective space, be able to then be creative, or be strategic, or just be present, with whatever you're doing. Those are the golden goodies.

Morten Andersen  18:08

I think it is about finding you know how this works for you. And also exactly what you know, whether you write it on a piece of paper that you carry in your pocket all the time or on your iPhone, or whatever you do, that really doesn't matter. Just as long as it works for you, I suppose. I think what helped me a lot, obviously, was to get out of my head, but also to break things down into actionable steps. Because sometimes we have a big piece like hiring a new vice president, you know, is a big chunk of of steps, actually. And it can be confusing and difficult to actually take action on it unless you can break it down. And I think that was probably the most valuable. I don't know if it came specifically from this. But generally, when I, when I taught myself to break things down, I learned a lot from that.

David Allen  18:52

And you don't actually need to break everything down to all the different pieces, some things you might want to do. But the main thing is, what's the next thing I need to do? The very next piece, and that's where people get hung up is because they think they have to think through the whole thing before they decide the next thing to do. Well, what do you need to do to figure out all this stuff? Oh, maybe I should set a meeting with Bill. Yeah, great. How you gonna do that? I should send them a meeting invite. Fabulous, how long would that take? Don't you just do that in a second? Do it. And suddenly you have this big project in motion. Because you stop freaking yourself out about everything that has to be done. You just figured out you just brought it down to what do I need to do to start to move the needle on this. And that's the critical breakdown that you need to finish you're thinking, indeed, you might want to spend four days with 16 people in a big room and whiteboards to flesh out a major project. Sure. But you better have very specific next actions you need to do to set up that meeting. And very specific next actions once you walk out of that meeting about what needs to happen by the moving parts. So what's the next action thing that is so magical? So those are two of the key components. I know you're probably going to ask will it look if somebody's just getting started or what are the key elements This stuff, basically get the stuff out and get as much as you can out of your head and decide the next actions on any of those you intend to actually do something about. And then step three would be make sure you park reminders, if you can't finish the action in the moment, you you decided to have some sort of list manager, and review and reflect on all of that stuff as best you can, on some consistent basis, you're gonna be way ahead of the planet if you do any version of that.

Morten Andersen  20:23

Okay, I like the fact that you are so open about this is a methodology. I've seen that work for many people. But if you have another way of doing it, go about doing that. I mean, that's, that's really cool. There might be some people who say, Well, I'm not a structured type of person. So this sounds like it's very structured. Sounds like, you need to get things out of your head as soon as you have it there. But I don't have that sense of structure around me. What would you say to them?

David Allen  20:48

Well, they wouldn't even ask that question. If they were unstructured. They could even get out of bed. If they were unstructured. Just ask them what they really like to do. I like to fish I like to paint, I like to play the flute, it will show me what you use when you fish. They open their tackle box. And it's neat as a pin. I like to play the flute, show me your music, and where do you play? And it's all structured. I like to paint Show me your paintbrushes and show me where are you? Oh my god. See, usually you don't think about structure, when it's something you have to do to do something you love to do. If you love to cook, are you highly structured in your kitchen knowledge love to cook, let me go see your kitchen, the spices are here, butters here, you know the the pans are down here. It's not all over the place. Unless you're just a young guy in college, in which case, if you could just know where the salt is, everything else is mess. But you'll be as structured as you need to be to get what you want to be doing. So you know, as people say, I don't like structure. So what do you think about the center line in the road out there? I think that's a good thing. Is that a constraint that if you Oh, my God, I'm in jail, I have to stay on this side of the road. No. Structures is simply creating the limitations that are required to achieve result, you only need to be as organized as you need to be. I don't like having to be organized, I just get as organized as I need to be. So I don't have to rethink anything. And so I can find stuff when I need it. You know, that's coming. I understand what people because they look at this, and they see the result of 25 or 30 years of my work all put into one manual and said, Look, if you really wanted to do this, here's the here's the best practices, you know, from 1000s of hours and 1000s of people, you know, actually applying this process. And so it can seem a little overwhelming or daunting. I think it may look like it's a little over. But however structured is it to recognize stuff that has your attention? How over structured is it to make a decision about what I need to do about it? What I need to keep track of those done? How over structured is it to say, Well, I need to keep track of this somewhere. So my brain doesn't have to keep reminding myself, I can trust my system to remind me how over structured is it to step back and say, gee, by the way, where do you need to be for the next couple of weeks? What's up, when people say this is too much structure I go, I understand what you're saying. Because most of the structures and the old time management trainings and all that stuff were way over structured and unrealistic. And they didn't have anything to do with the flexibility we all need. That's why my radical thing back in the early 1980s was the daily to do lists don't work. They just don't work. Your life is too much of a surprise. You need to be a lot more flexible. But you need to total life to do lists all the time so that you can make good choices about it and not feel guilty. They didn't do the 25 things you thought were gonna do on Monday.

Morten Andersen  23:31

Yes. And I guess what was also back in the old days when it was pen and paper was that you had to carry it over to another day or you had to there was a lot of you spend a lot of time writing things down now it's much easier with different apps or you know, different reminders that you have, I think I think technology is actually helped a lot in that way.

David Allen  23:51

Well, it's helped and hurt. It's helped probably more than it's hurt. But there's still the downside the black the black hole of the technology is the new new will give me a new app that'll fix this give me all the way that didn't quite Why didn't work that one. But that didn't work. I'm gonna give me the new new and the new new didn't work. So give me the new new new and you think that's gonna work. If you get this methodology, you can make anything work, you know, as you and I said before we started this recording, I use the time design or the time system system on a Copenhagen. Only bear is a friend of mine. I'm the guy who designed that thing. And he was one of the most coolest guys he's still around by the way. Yes, yes, yes. Yeah,

Morten Andersen  24:30

I used it as well. I really liked it. And my life was a lot less complicated that time by the way, but then it became very complicated to maintain.

David Allen  24:39

Well, that's why we say the paper based system to me is the is the best organizational tool for your life simply because it's all in your face. You can see the whole Gestalt in us in a few minutes or seconds. You can flip to wherever you want to go see its relationship to everything else very well and it's almost impossible to do that on the computer. It's a very hard to do. You don't have the same you You can do discrete things in a very cool way. But you can't see the whole game very easily. That's why that's why By the way, there's we've made two major attempts with some of the brightest, brightest people on the planet to do GTD apps. And in that neither one none of them work. You needed much more of the technology to really make it work the way it really needed to work. It wasn't there, still not there.

Morten Andersen  25:20

I need to ask you about that. Because that was one of my things. Why is there not an app? I mean, because it's, on one hand, it seems very logical that there would be an app because there is a methodology. And there should be a way to put that into an app. And I, I have no doubt that there'll be a huge demand for such an app.

David Allen  25:37

No, there's no demand. There's no demand. Everybody who kind of got GTD and the whole life hack movement was created there. Probably last count. You know, years ago, there were over 300 apps built on the GTD model. They're all just list managers Tell me Oh, this manager, when you write down something, it automatically says, gee, is there a project about this? And by the way, what's the next action? And if there's a project on it, you then you click on that it automatically pulls up whatever you use for project thinking, and you've defaulted already, that you can spend two minutes brainstorming a new project, and you put that in there. And then before it turns off, so you will spend more time thinking about this, do you want what's your next action, right? And then it parks it automatically and where you need to keep track of that, who even thinks they need that?

Morten Andersen  26:25

In a previous episode, I spoke with Jim Loehr, and he talks a lot about managing energy rather than managing time. And as an example, you know, also in some of his writing, he says, Well, you can spend two hours with your family. But if you're mentally somewhere else, then what quality of time is stacked with your family. So instead of focusing on the time focusing on your energy, and your mental focus, etc, he had a thought about spending a little bit too much focus on time, that was may not be always the best way of finding out how you should allocate your energy on a day, what are you thinking about that?

David Allen  27:04

Well turns a critical component like spaces, you can't manage time you don't miss manage five minutes and come up with six or four and a half. Time just is. So it's true. I don't think about time, I just think about where's my attention? I think about time called, How much time are you going to spend? And then you know what I do when I finished that? And what do I need to do? It's going to take a certain amount of time for me to do that I have a commitment about sometimes a critical component with like money or spaces, and all those are just resources that you utilize. So you don't ignore that idea. Why would you even think about time, unless you're some sort of philosopher like the German philosophers, Heidegger and people like that, you know, thought about stuff like that. And I'm kind of too lazy to go down that track. Don't even worry about that stuff. times really an experience. And it really is quality more than quantity. I mean, that part I would certainly agree with. And when people say you should allocate a certain amount of time for certain kinds of things. Yes, that's true, but to a liminative effect, because quite frankly, you know, I think your success comes from following your intuitive hunches about what to do at any point in time. It's hard to listen to those intuitive hunches or recognizes which ones are the ones to follow, unless you're clear enough in your head that you're not distracted by all the other stuff that gets in the way takes up cognitive real estate. And so that's why implementing, you know, the GTD or my methodology, it just helps you get a lot more clear space, to think strategically to work to think about where I need to spend my time. And to, I plan as little as I can get by with the only time blocks on my calendar or when I've made external commitments with other people to keep that agreement. Otherwise, I leave my space totally open. Now there are times if you're in a very, very busy life, especially when other people have access to your calendar. And you know, you need two good hours to finish that business plan. By Friday, when you have to turn it in, and you look down your calendar, you go God, if I don't block that in, it ain't gonna get done. And so you need to you then need to make an appointment with yourself. I couldn't agree more. So in that regard, you need to take you need to be aware of time and time blocks. And there are times when time blocking is a good idea. But don't overdo it. As soon as you block one of those you'll you'll undo your own agreement with stuff faster than anything. And then you know, then you don't trust yourself. And then you don't trust your calendar, you don't trust what's a real thing versus what's a Gee, I'd like to thing. You know, I don't know if you know it, but one of the first time management systems that showed up physically in the US was the day timer. And the day timer showed up in 15 minutes segments why the guy who invented it was a lawyer, and he had to charge by 15 minute increments. So that's, you know, that certainly became Of course, I need to keep track of the time I spend because that's money every 15 minutes gets charged that kind of money.

Morten Andersen  29:46

I know that your methodology is labeled as a productivity tool, but I think what can be misunderstood by that is that then you just need to produce more than you just need to be more effective then you just need to run faster you take more in so to speak, but I don't think that's the benefit of this program at all. I think it is actually, you know, sitting down thinking, what are my long term, big goals? What, what do I want to achieve, really, and then link that to and creating space to do that. So it's actually making your most important projects, your most important projects, so to speak, and having a system around that. So I think there is a lot of focus on time and a lot of focus on productivity. But for me, it is actually doing the right things rather than do more things.

David Allen  30:31

Productivity just got a lot of baggage as a word, everybody's being productive, right now you're being productive, doing what you're doing, everybody's producing whatever they've got, when we say more productive, that just means I want to get more out of the time and energy I'm putting into it. Or I want to get the same thing with less time and energy put into it, that's being more productive. But productive just means, you know, achieving some sort of desired result or experience. If you go on a vacation to relax, and you don't relax. That's an unproductive vacation. Yes, if you try to meditate, but don't meditate, that's unproductive. So people again, think about I understand that the people think about productivity means busy working harder, working longer, you know, and for some people, it might, I don't know, that's up to them in terms of what they're trying to produce. Are you're trying to produce relaxation, happiness, quality of life, quite frankly, you know, work and I don't know where you are in this game. But many people who get enthralled by GTD and really start to practice it get totally overwhelmed themselves, because they get so inspired, I thought how many things they now can produce. They start throwing more in and taking on more and more. And if someone would think, oh, wait a minute, I'm burning out does that GTD not if I was burning out was your goal.

Morten Andersen  31:41

And I've actually been through that process myself, too. In the beginning, I was like, Whoa, I can really do a lot. And I can do a lot by doing this. But I actually got trapped into liking doing more and more, and then finding out that that was not what it was about. And it's interesting what you say about productivity, because most people would not say, I want to have a productive holiday, they would use some kind of other word. And I know exactly what you mean. And and that's why I think the productivity label can sometimes be a misconception for what they say,

David Allen  32:09

if we could have found a different word, we would have used it, but there just isn't one. No language hasn't that most languages even have trouble, You know, translating, getting things done, or translating mind like water or translating next action. Strangely, you know, that stuff that became sort of common sense to be in many of the different languages in the books and 30 languages out there have trouble, you know, translating some of this stuff. 

Morten Andersen  32:36

And I think your background in martial arts, but also your concept of Mind Like Water is actually a really important component of this. Can you explain what Mind Like Water means and and,

David Allen  32:49

you know, I stole that from the martial arts, Bruce Lee's sensei that trained him to talk Bruce about be like water be as flexible, but as powerful as water is. And water is totally appropriate to its environment. It doesn't overreact doesn't under react. And it's quite fluid and quite flexible. So the whole idea of having mind like water is having a mind that doesn't over or under react to anything. You're dealing with stuff in present tense. But if you're distracted by a meeting that went south this morning, is hard to be present with your kids, it's hard to be present cooking spaghetti, you know, it's not mine, like there's not a mind like water state. So like water simply says are you present? Are you present with whatever you're doing. And you decide what you want to do by being present. And you decide how you want to use the space that creates for you. People use it to be more creative. Some people use it to be more strategic, a lot of people use it just to be more present, and coach to senior executive and actually head of a large, global organization. And he said, David, my presenting issue is when I go home with my young kids on the weekend, I do not want to bring this organization with me to be able to watch your girl play soccer or football without being on your iPhone. Those are a lot of the AHA is that people start to implement this, they start to experience to go wow, this is really more about quality of life than just being busier.

Morten Andersen  34:09

Exactly. So the connection you also made to mindfulness before was that in order to have a good mindfulness experience, it's literally about obviously focusing on your breathing. But the more the more you get disturbed by your own thoughts, or you know, your attention gets carried away, then the harder that is, and one of the key ways actually to support your mind of not being distracted too much is to get everything out of your head and not be worried about am I forgetting this? Or I need to remember this and so on. And I think getting things done as a methodology actually supports that mindful experience. You can have them

David Allen  34:51

Yeah, well, so

Morten Andersen  34:52

a lot of people are attracted to productivity tools, and there are certain types of people and I might actually be Even though one of those types, what do you think attracts people to productivity tools in general?

David Allen  35:06

I don't know, if you like to cook, aren't you attracted to cool kitchen gear?

Morten Andersen  35:10

Yes, I am.

David Allen  35:12

One of my many jobs back in those days was working in a construction with, you know, for for a construction company doing all kinds of stuff. And man, just don't let me into a hardware store because I would come out with bags of coups, too. So I think, you know, cool tools, depending on, you know, if you're, if you're into, you know, sort of, as somebody described GTD is as knowledge work athletics, it's right here, the moves you need to take to be able to then make sure you're managing your thinking process, you know, optimally. And so any tools that facilitate managing the thinking process, you know, and in just in the last 10 days, you know, here's a new tool, remarkable pad that I'm just experimenting with, to see, you know, because it gives you really the touch and feel of paper, but at the same time, it's digital. And so you can send this PDF, this you can do whatever. And I still don't know, jury's out with that. Right? before I've talked to you. There's a company that's now designing training programs, using these virtual reality glasses. Yes. So there's another tool, I'm always fascinated by, you know, if what you want is to be able to be more creative, or be clearer, any kind of tool that helps you do that I'm, I'm, I'm for that, of course, my buy to use ratio is about 10. to one.

David Allen  36:39

Yes. Cuz, you know, a lot of this stuff is, it's kind of a cool idea in concept. But, you know, the trick is, are you still using it two months from now, if not, it probably didn't quite match to your what you really needed and how you really move and work

Morten Andersen  36:55

for Getting Things Done. As a methodology, I use OneNote as my preferred tool. It's very simple. Actually, I know there are apps that can be used, and you can optimize and you can do a lot of things. But it actually really works for me. And whether it's on my iPhone, or on my desktop, or whether I write things down on a piece of paper, and then put it into OneNote, Later. it actually really works for me. And I think, whatever works, I discovered that on, on, somebody had had used it on on OneNote, and wrote a blog about it. And I just copied that and it worked well, for me, I like experimenting with new things. But I always return back to the OneNote. Because it, it works well. For me.

David Allen  37:34

Anything that's a list manager will basically manages all of not all managers, you know, a huge amount of this, you can do it all on Evernote, I know people that are huge Evernote fans and saying very similar to OneNote, how you could use that. It's so open ended and you create your own heuristic about how it's organized and so forth. And that's great. That's kind of, I don't know how long it took me about six months to feel comfortable with how to organize all my Evernote notes. And we're just migrating into office into into 365 right now. So I'm going to be experimenting with OneNote myself, because we've been moving from IBM notes there, I've been keeping my list before. So I still have that exploration to do as well. And so a lot of these things take a little while to get comfortable with the the formula that I've got that works for me. So I have to keep thinking about the system, I'm just using the system. So all these things have a little bit of investment time, some of them a lot to try to figure that out.

Morten Andersen  38:38

So What Monkeys Do is a podcast about change. And many of our listeners would like to implement a change in their life. And I guess it requires sometimes two things. One, it requires more time. And I guess getting things done can help getting an overview of what's actually what are you spending your time on and eliminate some things or you say that's not important, or this is more important than others. And then it is a system to keep focusing on what is important. And I guess Getting Things Done can also do that. If we take an A person who is just using a little bit of of notes for buying groceries, and maybe a to do list and maybe having an email list and so on. If a person wants to use Getting Things Done, what should be the first step do you think?

David Allen  39:25

Well, as I mentioned before, the first step is to have just a good capture tool, so that you wherever you are, no matter where you are, or wherever you are, you've got a place you can capture stuff and most of my capture is low tech.

Morten Andersen  39:36

Yes. So it's a it's a notepad.

David Allen  39:39

There's my notepad today, you know, I've got two things. Those were handled that one new thing on here. I haven't transferred that into my system yet but i was i was doing other things, but I needed to be able to grab this when it happened. So I have this on my desk, and this in my pocket. And little paper. God knows when lightnings gonna strike and I occurs an input comes in that I need to think I might want to do something about. So having a good ubiquitous meaning always with you are always somewhere that you can write stuff down. I've, I've coached, you know, couples, I've coached, you know, homemakers, you know that they need to make sure that they've got a notepad in the kitchen, because they're trying to keep track of two young kids in the living room playing on the floor, and they suddenly realized, I don't think they need to have a place they can go get that out of their head, you know. And so, capture tool, and most of mine is low tech, you could capture high tech, if you want, you know, there, I have a capture tool on my iPhone. But again, you got this, you have to click it, you have to, there are too many clicks I have to do, and then I have to then make sure I get it out of there again. So that's actually, you know, a lot more work than just low tech capture and capture is not organized. Capture is just to get the stuff out. And that's the first thing that people need to have some capture tool and then an entry, you know, physical in basket. Here's mine, right here.

Morten Andersen  41:00

Yeah, that's a that's a physical things in

David Allen  41:03

it. Because, yeah, I mean, we're still getting paper, guys, don't kid yourself, they're still you're still getting physical mail, you're still getting things you need to print out and to decide what to do with.

Morten Andersen  41:13

So the first the first step is to find a place where you can capture things, when you get an idea or an action you need to remind yourself to do or you need to Oh, by the way, I need to call Peter to do this, or I need to do that, or whatever. So that's the first step is to find a tool that works that you have with you all the time.

David Allen  41:33

Yeah. And if you really wanted to implement the process, then use that tool, or frankly, if I were coaching somebody, I'd give them to get a big stack of paper, make sure they have a physical in basket, a big stack of printer paper and get them to empty their head one idea per page, and throw that into their in tray. And that's different than what you would have once you get the system started. And then the like, yes, you need it, like I have just these ubiquitous tools that are available all the time. But just to if you're implementing the process to begin with, you probably need some place more than just these little notepads to dump everything out of your head. as best you can. Yeah, that'll anywhere will work as long as you're working. So you know, some sort of a notepad. So that'd be the first thing to do. So you just want to keep going as long as it goes. And that could be, you know, as long as long as it takes, I've had to take up two or three days with some executives that I've worked with just to empty it all and get it all out. But even if just take 10 minutes to do that, it'll help. So you don't have to do some major project. But just to whatever degree you do that as just start to externalize those things, then step two is train yourself to think what's the next action about any of those that you actually need to do something about, and then make those decisions about those things, and then have a list manager. So where that you can keep track of what do I need to be reminded of is nothing else, it's a simple next action list.

Morten Andersen  42:54

But that will probably still give you a list of 200 potential to do's and how do you then go from there to put should I do now?

David Allen  43:03

Well, come on, anybody keeps a grocery list, they're already doing that, like, Oh, that's something you need to buy at the store that goes over here in that list. Here's an errand I need to run here, it goes over that my list, here's a call I need to make goes over here. And that calls list. So just organize those things. Based upon the context that makes sense to you. These are things to do when I'm wired or into when I have a digital access would you could do it off your iPhone, or your laptop, or your iPad or whatever, you might have all of those on one list. If you have a whole lot, then sometimes it makes more sense to sort those into into ways it makes it a little easier to manage them because a lot of them we couldn't do right now anyway, because you're not where you could do them. You know, going off for errands you don't need to look at your errands list, you don't need to have that disturb you.

Morten Andersen  43:47

Yes. So it's actually breaking down that long list into other lists. Some where you do it. When you have a you need to phone some you need to do errands, some you need to do on your computer, some you need to do when you're out buying groceries or something. So you have different lists.

David Allen  44:04

And you need some sort of some sort of tool and they need to make sure you need to look at the tool and key and review it and keep it current so that then your brain doesn't have to keep reminding you about anything.

Morten Andersen  44:14

So you've obviously implemented this with hundreds, maybe even 1000s of people over the years and you have coached them. So you've literally sat next to them as they've been implementing this. If you look back and think of some of the most let's use the word successful in using this tool, what have they they've been successful with? There must be a hump at some point where some people they look at and say well, it's too much bother for me and others have have continued and really been successful with it. What has been the difference Do you think between those who who really used it? Well,

David Allen  44:50

well, just legions of testimonials we've gotten over the last 35 years. They range from a guy who's attributes this to curing himself of cancer all the way Howard Stern is big entertainment guy in the US, etc, changed his life giving room to learn how to paint, as well as keep all of his entertainment businesses going. So, you know, it just rated it however people have decided to do that. But for most people that would say it totally changed the quality of their life.

Morten Andersen  45:18

And and did they do something? I mean, I guess what I'm trying to ask is, did they do something in particular that made it work? Well, for them? I mean, did they use a particular system? Or did they look at it every day? Or did they? Or was it literally just, you know, that they decided to use it, and then they made it work for them?

David Allen  45:38

I don't know. And arranged all over, you don't have to do you can do any little part of this. I had a major Hollywood producer, probably one of the most successful you'd ever know, who just read my book and said, I just got the next action concept. And it allowed him to create movies a whole lot faster and a lot more successfully than we did. It's just that one thing. I roll with that, you know, and that really works. So whatever it did, it created more space and more of a sense of focus and control. And then people have used that. And for whatever way they've done that to do whatever they were doing themselves.

Morten Andersen  46:10

I guess what I just took from that was because I've probably seen it as a methodology that here are five steps. And here are the steps in the steps. And this is how you do it. And what I guess what you're saying is, if you just do any of it, that that might even help you. And if that works for you. Good luck with that. I mean, that works well for you. So if emptying your head, you know, somewhere and that works. Well done. And it's the whole methodology. Well, that works for you. So it's really bits and pieces or all of it.

David Allen  46:38

Yes, it's not running with scissors?

Morten Andersen  46:40

No. Okay.

David Allen  46:43

It's all good stuff. That said, if you really want to taste, how cool is to have nothing on your mind, other than whatever you're focusing on, you really do need to implement the whole methodology.

Morten Andersen  46:57

Because that's what I did, I took the whole thing and probably was good that I didn't know that I could just take parts of it. But I took the whole thing. And I think it was the whole thing that worked well for me, because it was also having, you know, a quarterly review and think about, am I heading right in terms of my five year plan, or connecting that to the day to day, and that worked really well, for me to have the whole plan implemented? I guess the thing is that once you start on it, you need to continue to do it every day. Because otherwise you get a backlog of things that maybe sounds a little bit too regular, but it is something that you need to keep maintaining?

David Allen  47:32

Yeah, well, you need to keep maintaining it if what you want to do is get rid of your addiction to NBN anxiety. So that's the biggest problem most people have is they start, they get sort of excited with this, but then they fall off because it moves them into a more relaxed state than they're used to. And if you're talking about how to change their biggest limiter to habit changes your comfort zone is what are you familiar with? Right? And so the comfort zone can keep you coming back to the ambient anxiety unless you change that unless you raise the bar internally about what you're willing to tolerate. Do you willing to tolerate waking up at three o'clock in the morning about something? Are you willing to tolerate? Having your ideas about stuff keep banging around in your head without making any progress on them? Are you willing to tolerate the subtle stress that that starts to build in people where they're feeling overwhelmed in any one thing in your life? Especially if it's a strategic thing? Should we get divorce? Should we adopt? Should I you know, how do I handle bankruptcy? How do I do whatever, any one of those things that you haven't applied this methodology with will call your whole life, that dark grey, it'll make everything feel overwhelming, everything that makes so that's why I say, you know, just getting this methodology down as a way to approach whatever then takes up space in your life, and understanding how to engage with that appropriately. And that's not something that's not a one time event. Actually, you know, I just turned 75 I've been doing this for 40-35 years anyway, to some degree. And I'm not going to stop Why should I? I like being present. makes life a lot better.

Morten Andersen  49:08

I think that's a fantastic note. To end this, I want to say thank you very much, David for taking the time to, to speak about getting things done, I have to admit that I am a converted person already. In that sense. I've also adapted this quite a lot to my own needs. But I think it works well for me. And I just want to say to everyone listening that you should you should have a look at it and see what it can do to you. Because getting things out of your head and not being stressed with that. It's actually it's actually a total relief. So thanks a lot for your time and thanks a lot for your for your input on this. 

David Allen  49:42

My pleasure Morten. Thanks for the invitation.

Morten Andersen  49:51

What a great interview. I took three things away from my talk with David. One. productivity is really just about doing what is most effective. To you, I think personal productivity has got a bad name. To many, it either means to be more efficient at work, or measuring everything or trying to achieve. And that's not what it's about at all. It's really just making sure that you're prioritizing what you think are the most important stuff in your life. And that has rarely, anything to do with being more productive at work. Two: get stuff out of your head, David Allen has a saying that your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. He believes that we should empty our minds capture it all, and then start doing the tasks that matters most to us, instead of just thinking. In fact, a lot of what keeps us awake at night, or what gets us all stressed out, is that we desperately are trying to keep stuff in our heads. We can't and we shouldn't. And that's why David's most important advice in this interview was to get all your stuff out of your head. And three, find out what works for you. David has designed this whole system, and this identifies how to capture stuff and how to sort it and how to manage tasks, etc, etc. But that system may not work for all. In fact, he suggests that you find a system that works for you, and then follow that. And that's a great advice. And this is coming from a person who actually lives of selling a particular system. But one thing he does suggest for all of us to do is to get stuff out of our head. Getting Things Done is a world bestseller and with good reason. If you're interested in personal productivity, you really should read it. If you prefer to watch videos, then he has made a number of TED Talks which are worth watching. The one I would recommend is called the Art of Stress Free Productivity. Until next time, take care

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