Episode #11 – GTD at the Executive Level

Date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 by GTD Times Staff

Dr. Deb Smith-Hemphill, a long time practitioner and now Certified Trainer, GTD Connect member, and advocate of the GTD methodology, owns and manages her own successful management consulting business in California. In this witty and upbeat conversation, she chats with David about her professional path, her intersections with David and GTD, and gives lots of detail about her own streamlined system to get things done from an executive level.

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Show Notes

Deb mentions this book on mind mapping:
The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential, by Tony Buzan

She also mentions that she uses a Circa notebook from Levenger.



INTROUDCTION FROM DAVID ALLEN: Hi, David Allen, back with you with another in our In Conversation series, bringing you ideas, perspectives, interesting stories, great tips and techniques from other people involved in our Getting Things Done network.

In a moment you’ll hear me talking with Dr. Deb Smith-Hemphill, head of her own successful management, consulting and executive coaching firm.

You may have heard me say before that one of the many paradoxes of GTD is that it is most attractive to the people who need it the least. Deb is certainly the poster child for that. And a few people I’ve met have understood, integrated and implemented the methodology at multiple levels with the sophistication she has and even fewer that are as articulate about it. You’ll probably agree.


DAVID ALLEN: Hi everybody, David Allen back In Conversation. Today I’m in conversation with Deb Smith-Hemphill and Deb, I’m gonna – this is really fun because you know, most of the people that I’ve had interviews and conversations with in this series, I’ve had a chance to interact with them a little bit more personally or you know, through my network or through other things that we’ve done and in a way you’re kind of a surprise. A nice one I’m sure. A lot of this was on the recommendation that uh – in the last, I think, San Francisco seminar that I did, you intersected with my wife Kathryn and Kathryn just went a-buzz. She said, “Oh my God David, you’ve got to talk to this lady, she has done every one of your seminars, she lives and breathes this stuff. You know – it’s fabulous!”

So I said, “Great! Let’s just bring her on.” So with that kind of semi-introduction from my side, let me toss it to you. So this could be a real conversation you and I get to have Deb in terms of like who you are, what your background is and – and what you’re doing and any and all of that. So why don’t you tee it up for everybody listening by just giving us at least a thumbnail sketch of who Deb and how you got to where you are and what you’re doing.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well, thank you so much. First of all I want to thank you for the opportunity. I am a big fan and I have been since about 2002, when I came across your material. It’s very kind of Kathyrn to recommend me and you and I have met a couple times and I would not in any way think you would remember but I’m very enamored of your jazz playlist, so I …

DAVID ALLEN: Oh that’s right. Okay! Now I knew there was some connection back there somewhere.



DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Yes, yes. That – that’s usually what we’d talk about when we had the chance to talk, so.

Um, I will tell you that I’m very honored to be talking to you. I think I mentioned that I was getting off a plane from Chicago back into San Francisco, which is where I am located at in the East Bay and I was turning on my phone as you do, and walking up the jet way, sort of browsing through the messages that I’d received while I was on the plane and I saw yours and I thought, “My God, I picked up someone else’s phone. This can’t be right.” And so it was a really nice treat and thank you so much for the chance to do that.

I own a consulting firm, management consulting firm. We’re entering our 25th year, so we’re pretty excited about that and we’re focused on management productivity but from a very different angle than you focus on it. We’re focusing on management and leadership behaviors that the idea is to help whoever the executive is or the person that we’re working with to develop a pattern of behaviors that matches their intent, so that they become more productive. Nobody really intends to do harm when they get up in the morning with their management style, but very often they do. And we know that because the Wall Street Journal will tell you that 67% of people leave a job because their boss is a … and you can just fill in the blank. A good boss probably isn’t a – fill in the blank, but that’s their perception and usually it’s because the pattern is off. So we try and help them be productive in those management leadership behaviors that they need to install.

About 50% of my time is executive coaching. About 20-30% of my time is training, either delivering my material or someone else’s material and then the rest of it is project work or large convention keynote kinds of things and it’s just too much fun.

We’ve got a great group of 27 folks and we’re all over the place and we just really enjoy it. We get a chance to do the things that we love everyday – so …

DAVID ALLEN: How did you morph into that? I mean that’s not something that you were born going, “Wow! I can’t wait to go …


DAVID ALLEN: … you know, take people that are dysfunctional or who have improvement opportunities in terms of how they function in terms of managing leading other people”. Where – what was the path?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well the path – uh, there were a couple things first in my career, my education of course, and a couple starting jobs and I – I ended up on loan to AT&T to do, as a trainer, they were – this is prior to divestiture, so it gives you a little bit of a time frame, but they were training their sales people in anticipation of being an independent company and no longer being regulated on the equipment sales side, so they – um sent me to Denver to do training and I met my husband there. We’ve been married now, we’re going on our 30th year, so – and he gets all the credit. But anyway, I met him – he’s a really, really great guy; I met him and in order for us to travel together – you know, be transferred together, ‘cause this was a two year assignment, I had to stay in sales and marketing and we transferred from Denver our two year assignment there to San Diego, our two year assignment there, to Honolulu and we – they were – at that point it was a managing director for them, as was my husband, but two different lines of business and we were there to open their first “international office”, even though Hawaii is a state, we went all the way out to Guam and out that direction and my assignment ended a little bit earlier than his did, so what happened uh – we went to management and said, “We need to live in the same place”, because they wanted to transfer me to San Francisco and leave him in Hawaii for a year, which we didn’t like that idea and we couldn’t figure out how to make that work, nor could they, so they said, “We’ll give you some money if you leave quietly …” which I did. It was a great opportunity and they were a terrific company to work for. So I had decided I was gonna take a whole year off, because I really hadn’t had time off since I started college. I kind of went on an accelerated schedule, so my husband was very supportive – I’m taking a year off in Hawaii, this is gonna be great! And about 30 days in, I was on the phone, I called my grandmother to try and – and to ask her how to clean underneath the refrigerator, ‘cause she is the only person in our family who knows how to clean anything, and so I asked her the question and there was silence on the phone and then all of a sudden she goes, “Are you really thinking about doing that?”

And I said, “Yes.”

And she said, “Get a job. You really need to go back to work.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: You must be bored to tears,” she said, “because I know you and you don’t clean anything and”, she said, “you really need to find work that you find interesting.”

So I taught a little bit at the University of Hawaii and I all of a sudden had folks saying to me, Could you help us organize our accounting department? It’s a mess in there.” Or, organize this and it’s a mess in there. Before you know we got into work process and work flow and then I took on a couple people to help me with that and we did some work for the Navy and all of a sudden I had a business. I’d love to tell you I had this grand plan, uh – but I don’t get credit for that. It just kind of evolved along the way.

The first two years we were really kind of an open business. We were publicized. We were – you know, we tried to really get our name out there, but after that, for the past 23 years, we’ve been only referral and re-engagement. So it’s about 98%. If we meet somebody on a plane who’s a new client, that’s a different story, but for the most part, it’s referral and re-engagement. So we no longer do the advertising and all of those things. We’re kind of – by the time somebody gets to us, they know who we are and what we do.

My grandmother gets a lot of the credit for making me go back and do something useful.

DAVID ALLEN: Really and interesting that you say that because you know, I did a quick surfacing, “Gee wonder what she’s doing out there?” and you weren’t out there.


DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: On a purpose [INAUDIBLE (00:09:16)]

DAVID ALLEN: You know and I know actually if you remember an In Conversation with Allen Nelson with CRA, I mean Allen’s a great consulting firm, but that is basically part of their strategy because of the kind of work that they do in communication the C-level, uh is – is oftentimes, you know, nobody else wants them to know who they’re working with.


DAVID ALLEN: And you know, not that everything has to be so secret and hush-hush, but I think it is a mark – it’s kind of like having a business card with nothing on it, other than a name. You know, and maybe a phone number and an e-mail address or something like. I think there’s an elegance to that.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well thank you. You must have seen my business card because that’s all that’s on it.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: I’m a big Levenger fan and uh I have those cards, that just have the lines on the bottom so I can write somebody a note or whatever, but it’s pretty much my name and the name of the firm and my e-mail address and that’s about it. So …

DAVID ALLEN: Well I’m curious also about your model itself. Uh – don’t you do work in terms of generational stuff? Uh …


DAVID ALLEN: … with that? Kathryn had mentioned that. I think that’s fascinating. You know, like what every ten years it’s a whole different world of people that you’re engaging with.


DAVID ALLEN: Does that – is that sort of a sidebar topic or is that integral to sort of what’s core and key for the leadership coaching that you do?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well it kind of started as a sidebar and it’s become integral because we’re working with senior executives who have four generations of work now. They have veterans, baby-boomers, gen-X and gen-Y and each of those generations has very different currencies and very different value systems and I’m just thrilled actually, I’ve lived long enough to hear all four of them complain about each other ‘cause they never think about each other in good terms.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But uh, it’s really played into the central core piece around how you pattern your behaviors, how you pattern your communication to be able to deal with and lead all four generations in a way that resonates with them. They will follow a leader if their see their value system reflected in that leader, which is true in politics but it’s also true in business. So it’s understanding what those value systems are and understanding what those currencies are so that you can help people see that we’ve got a lot of things in common, as opposed to we’re all very different.

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah, so I guess it’s another version of the – you know, the you name ‘em, all the different sort of personality matrices whether it’s …


DAVID ALLEN: … MBTI or disc models or any of that kind of stuff that each one of those patterns. Obviously it really helps to understand that not everybody actually is like you. And we all sort of assume everybody is like us, therefore if you behave that way – if I behave that way that would then mean X.


DAVID ALLEN: And therefore, and therefore, I think you now don’t like me. The truth is you didn’t even know I existed …


DAVID ALLEN: So, you know, things like that become great ah-ha’s. I’m assuming that that – your model provides that kind of a context.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Yes it absolutely does. It’s one data fact, so you can’t walk down the hall and say, “Hi, how old are you, and I’ll tell you everything I know about you.”


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But it’s one data set to give you information. So as an example, you – you have baby-boomers, to have a value system that more than 60% of that value system, how they value their contribution in life, how they see the world, all those things that are defined by value system, comes from their work, and then the rest of it are small little piece parts of the pie that represent the rest of their life being a parent, being a spouse, being active in their community, contributing their church – whatever the heck is on their plate. If all those little slices, but this big huge, more than 50% of the pie is revolving around their work and it’s how they draw their self-esteem.

So in part, you don’t see baby-boomers retiring. It has a little bit to do with the financial part of it, or maybe more to do with the financial part of it, but a lot of it is because if they don’t have a job, they really don’t know who they are. So you’ll see them retire for – I don’t know – 20 minutes; they’re back in the parking lot as consultants, and part-time and all kinds of other things and there aren’t enough generation X folks to replace them because it’s a much smaller generation. So the good news is, if we refuse to leave the parking lot, sometimes that’s okay because there’s not anybody behind you.

But when you look at the generation X worker their value system, they took that pie and divided it evenly and they said, “You know, I’m a – I got an even spot here for business and for personal growth and for being a parent, being a spouse and active in my community.”

So the baby-boomer looks at the generation X worker and says, “You’re not dedicated!”

And they say, “I am too dedicated.”

And they say, “No you’re not! You’re not here nights, weekends, national holidays.”

And they say, “I’m dedicated to all the parts of my life. Get one, you might like it. Meet your children. You know, there’s other stuff …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … out there.”

DAVID ALLEN: Deb I have to ask you and because, obviously these In-Conversations are going to become archival and totally valuable …


DAVID ALLEN: … 1400 years from now …


DAVID ALLEN: … so I won’t date us in terms of what our year is right now, but what – uh – give me the – this is fascinating to me, so I hope you don’t mind, I dig down into your weeds here …


DAVID ALLEN: … but I think this is great stuff. What year are the boomers born – from what years to what years?


DAVID ALLEN: In other words, lay out your generational sort of matrix here.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well it actually depends on whose book you read.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Um, if we use their – there is something called the Gold Standard, which in essence says, this is – this is kind of a block, the hunk and then everybody’s research, they shift it a year or two, so that it fits their stuff and they have excellent reasons, I’m sure, for doing that and can back it up, but the Gold Standard would tell you that people who are born from 1920 to 1940 would hit in that veteran generation.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And boomers born ’40 to ’60, then X ’60 to ’80, and generation Y ’80 to 2000.

Now, there’s newer research that’s not fully validated so we don’t quote it as yet, but it – it’s interesting to me because it looks at how long year span it takes for a generation’s value system to install, and this 20 year span for generation – for veterans and for boomers kind of holds true, but when you get to generation X, they grew up on television and they were exposed to more of the world faster, so the thinking is that may be a shorter generation based on when value system’s installed. And then you have generation Y, who grew up with the internet, so they were exposed to much more of the world much faster and that could be yet again a smaller generation, which makes room for a whole ‘nother defined set of thought processes and value systems coming up behind them.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So it – kind of it depends on which book you read, but that’s sort of the blocking that we use at the moment, just as a reference period and reference piece and you want to recognize too that it’s one data set. So someone who is born in a certain time frame, but they were born to a single mom in the south is gonna have their different, slightly different twist on values than someone in a two parent family in the northern part of the country or whatever. There are all kinds of different delineators as you go along.

DAVID ALLEN: Sure, well another interesting vector on this to me, and by the way, we will – I am gonna loop all this back around to GTD because the interesting question is how universal is it? How generationally different is it in terms of taking to it and also culturally. So another question I have is: Does this go across borders? ‘Cause, by the way, 30% of the people listening to this are outside the U.S. right now, in terms of our GTD Connect. So we’re going more and more global, so I’m curious that – what does the research show? Does your stuff hold across borders?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: No. The research – well, yes and no. There’s a good consultant answer. It depends – what every consultant will tell you.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Each culture, each country has it’s own set of delineators because this all relates to the experiences that you had growing up and so if you grew up in the U.S., the things that I’m talking about, that seminal research applies.

There’s different research if you grew up in Germany and you live in that culture. There’s different research in Japan. So they all have different delineators around generational construct but they’re not the same as ours, because they weren’t exposed to the same politics the same world structure that we were.

DAVID ALLEN: Right. Okay, so now I need you to finish the other thread here.


DAVID ALLEN: The boomers are the workaholics, the X’s are “I need a balanced life” …


DAVID ALLEN: … other way. What’s the Y’s signature?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Oh, the Y’s are so much fun. You gotta love ‘em. If you took that pie of that value system and you pretty much divided it right down the middle, um, they just have two sides to their pie, it’s either work or fun. My work place however, must be fun and flexible and my fun has to add value or contribute in some way.

So they don’t just go run around the block, they run the race for leukemia. You know? Or I’m learning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. There’s always learning involved or it benefits someone else on the fun side and they have an entirely different paradigm around time than either the baby-boomers or generation X does because they grew up with 24 hour a day total access on multiple channels to people. So in their way of thinking, “Why in the world would I sit in an office in one place, all day long to work? I can work from anywhere. So, tell you what, I’ll get up at five, I’ll spend a couple hours on e-mail, then I’ll go for a run, have breakfast with my friends, I’ll be in the office around 9:30-10:00, I’ll do some meetings, go out for lunch with a buddy, come back – do some more meetings, do some more work, then go to a work out, then sit on e-mail for a while. Within a 24 hour period you’ll get what you’re supposed to get from me. But why would I sit in one place?”

And when you follow the logic, it actually makes sense, but it’s spinning out the generation Y, and certainly the baby-boomers, because they say, “What is the matter with you? You’re not here.”

And they go, “Of course I’m here, I’m making my contribution.” So you get that kind of disconnect.

And then my favorite is when you’ll hear the baby-boomers and even gen X, complaining about generation Y folks by saying they have a sense of entitlement. They think they’re due a promotion every five minutes. Where did this come from? And they don’t really reflect back on the growing up experience that these folks had, which was they grew up and played a lot of video games and a lot of games that are on, you know, your IPhone or whatever and electronic stuff. When you get to the next level, you move up! You get your ten points, you move up!

And they also were a generation, their parents wanted to build their self-esteem so when you got the soccer tournament, you got a trophy and when you look in their – the kids bedrooms, they’re just filled with trophies, because every time they get to the parking lot, they get a trophy. So when the grow up and they get to work, they park and they come in and they say, “Boss, where’s my trophy?”

And the boss says, “All you did was park.”

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And they don’t – it doesn’t – you know, that’s how the world works for them and they don’t understand it. They expect to work in partnership because they’ve been in partnership with their parents or on a team since the first day of kindergarten, so they’re used to a lot of acclaim and applause and people noticing what they’re doing because that’s how the world works for them. They’re not bad people. They’re terrific people, but the world works differently for them and so for each generation that’s very true.

They’re currency is knowledge. The baby-boomer currency is status and respect. So when you have a generation Y employee, who is getting knowledge transfer from a baby-boomer, who may be moving somewhere else, or moving on – that’s a great partnership. They do really well together because they respect the knowledge that that senior manager has and the manager feels that and also likes to impart knowledge to them, which is very valuable and that’s their currency.

But then you have that generation X manager, who’s in between. And I’ll say to the generation Y person, you know, generation Y employee will come in and say, “Look, – look what I know. I’m ready to be promoted.”

Generation X’s currency is achievement, so they’ll say, “I’m glad you know it but you haven’t done anything with it yet.”

And they go, “Yeah, but I know it.”

And they’re like, “Yeah, but you have to do it and you have to do it over and over consistently before you …” And it’s just a mismatch in currency, that’s all.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So if they – if they can again pattern their conversation so that they can respect the values and the currency of that other generation with whom their dealing, they have a much better conversation and in terms of productivity, management productivity being kind of our tag-line, you can have the right conversation once or you can the wrong one 27 times and wonder why it’s not working.

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah, definition of insanity.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Exactly right – exactly.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And I bet Allen would tell you the same thing. I had a chance to meet Allen at your GTD forum in San Francisco and he is just a terrific guy, really – really smart fella.

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah, okay so here’s the big meta question I have about all this.


DAVID ALLEN: If this is all about productivity, is any of the generations more productive than the other?


DAVID ALLEN: In other words, if you base your life around, you know, work, and status and knowledge, your currency is not – in other words, these different currencies and the different patterns, do they ultimately create different deliverables?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: My – my intellectual answer is no.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: In that, I think that each brings value, so that in the bottom line, if you’re managing and you are measuring an outcome based on a good set of standards, whether I do it in the baby-boomer mode – nights, weekends, national holiday – if I do it in the generational X mode, which is to give you 150% while I’m here and then at 5:30 I’m a dad, I’m someplace else doing something else, or you do it in the generation Y paradigm, which is, “I’m happy to work at home on my own and you’ll get it on time exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” My intellectual answer would be no.

That said, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen research that would validate my intellectual answer, so …

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah but productivity is a tricky game, because it’s all relevant.


DAVID ALLEN: You know, the article I just wrote for the New York Times, you know, where I pointed out the fact that look, just because you have word processors and you can produce documents a whole heck of a lot more productively and faster than you ever could with a typewriter, everybody else has one too.


DAVID ALLEN: So, so – yeah you can be a lot more productive, but so does everybody else and therefore, what does productivity mean? It may mean if it has to do with competitive edge or being able to produce more value than somebody else so you can get reward for that value, then the relatively of productivity comes into play.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: I think too the element that I always find important to fold in there is the clarity of the standard.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Do you know what it would take for you to say I was successful when you’re giving me the assignment, because I can generator a hundred documents and you can generate a hundred documents, but if those documents don’t produce the outcome that’s desired, then all we did was produce a hundred documents that weren’t worth anything. So what’s the standard of measurement and can somebody be clear about it up front?

And it’s something we see over and over again because the manager is, to use your vernacular, hasn’t finished their thinking about it when they delegate it to someone.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And that person wants to do a great job and they want to do the right thing, so they give the manager what they thought they wanted, but that isn’t really what they wanted and then we got to go around again, ‘cause nobody got clear about that standard up front.

So how are we gonna measure that outcome is successful?


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And I think therein I kind of always hook that into productivity because it’s the difference between volume and the quality of it.

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah, fascinating.

Okay, so let’s look this to GTD. First of all, you came across it, uh …


DAVID ALLEN: … I’m just curious if we can sort of shift gears now and go back to – what was your perception? How did you hear about it and what was your first take on it?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well um, I’ll tell you, I’m a Big Audible subscriber, that service where you can listen to books recorded.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And I believe that’s the first time I heard Getting Things Done, so I’m gonna say it was 2002. Do you recall what year your book went into audio production?

DAVID ALLEN: It was 2002, I think the end of ’01 is when we recorded it so it was probably right about then.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Okay. Well there was a phrase in there that I heard you use, um, about making and moving. And I haven’t heard you use that story for a while, but it talked about when we used to work in factories, you’d show up for work and there’d by a big pile of things for you to make and move, make and move, make and move and at the end of the day you went home and you didn’t think about it. And then the next day you got back there and here’s a new pile of things to make and move, make and move and make and move and you did that all and at the end of the day you went home and you didn’t think about it. And that really appealed to me. And I thought, doesn’t that make sense?

And the other thing I loved was the concept about pretty much thinking once a week. You know?


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And I could let my brain go on auto-pilot and do what I need to do the rest of the time, wouldn’t that be swell? So I started in reading – listening to the book and then I’m one of these people who has to go back and highlight it and all that sort of stuff, so I bought a physical copy of it and um, this is obviously before I was reading on the Kindle and all that great stuff as I do now, but uh – I started to go through the methodology in GTD that the book Getting Things Done is very heavy on exactly how do you do this and what are the mechanics of it.

And I will tell you David that you frightened me to death on more than one occasion. You just scared the socks off of me.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha. Okay.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Because – I’m sure you weren’t meaning to, but when I did the first big collecting of everything that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, where it was supposed to be for all eternity, once I saw that pile it was like – I can’t go in my office ever again. I have to seal the door and just walk away. It’s way too frightening to see how many things weren’t fitting that condition, but we worked through it, my assistant Margie and I, she sort of calmed me down and we kind of worked our way through it and then I got to the point where I felt like, in your vernacular, mind like water. My vernacular is mind like a sieve because I know things are gonna fall out of it anyway, I just like that they fall into the right place now and they’re safe then they fall through the hole.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But when I reached that point, it was: That can’t be right! I mean, I’m too relaxed. There’s so much open in front of me that my brain can now do. This is frightening. So that was my second terrifying experience that you had me have.

And then the third part was just really an interesting piece that when you talked about resistance in the system and if something is repelling you, uh – I grew up in a very disciplined household where if you didn’t like what you were doing, you just put your head down and you kept doing it and you know, it was the disciplined side of forcing yourself to do something. And the concept of you know, if it’s repelling you, change it up, figure it out. It’s such common sense and so basic and yet really gave me permission to do that kind of thing, which I’ve fallen in love with over the years and shared with folks, because you don’t have to keep pounding your head against the wall. If it works, great – and if it doesn’t, let’s fix it up.

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah – that’s great. Well I’d love to hear how has it morphed since then? What – is it this is now habitual to you? You just can’t remember when you didn’t do this? What’s happened to your own personal systems and your usage of this over time?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well it’s changed as we changed technologies. The thought process is pretty native and embedded because it makes the best sense of anything I’ve ever seen. Um, as you know in this business, you see everything.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, yeah.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And it’s the one that makes sense to me. It’s the one that actually works and helps people get more done – back to your definition of productivity, really get that through put and get that flow and be able to stay in flow for long periods of time, which I can do and I can get it in at will, thanks to you.

I will say the implantation changes as we get access to technology. We switched to Mac’s the end of last year. Uh – no that’s not right; the end of 2010, in November. And when I made that switch we had had a very elaborate set-up on Outlook on our Windows and uh really had fined tuned it in all these different views and we really worked on building that to be the way we wanted it to be. And this very complicated thinking mechanism – da – ta – da – ta – da.

And when we switched to the Mac, I thought, “Okay, I need to reproduce that”, so I got Outlook for Mac and I was trying to build it and the functionality of Outlook on the Mac is slightly different and doesn’t have some of the things that it has on the Windows platform. And it occurred to me, why was I trying to replicate this? Why didn’t I do some creative thinking about it?

So we’ve moved a lot of it to the Cloud, and we’ve separated things out and in some sectors, I’ve gone back to paper because I think better on paper. So when I’m planning a project, doing that Mind Map, that’s on paper. Um, but my assistant and I work our GT system as if we were one person doing this job. So we had to have the ability to have access to certain things where we both could see it, we could both be current around it and the newer technology has really, really helped us with that. So we …

DAVID ALLEN: I’d love to dig into that a little bit more because …


DAVID ALLEN: … there’s some interesting subtleties when you do that. I know you had mentioned that you guys had paired up.


DAVID ALLEN: Sorting of acting as one, you know, my danger flag goes up as soon as anybody does that and says, “Okay, whenever two or more are responsible, usually nobody is.”


DAVID ALLEN: Unless either or both people take full and total responsibility for managing everything and then there can be huge inefficiencies where two people have their eyes on it and don’t need to.


DAVID ALLEN: So I’m curious at what level of granularity – what do – what are you sharing? Like, project lists? Does she get into your action list and add to those? Do you guys have a mutual – look whoever gets to this first, kind of list? How does that work?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: No, not exactly. If you took this job of running my company and you kind of divided it, you would see the part that requires my brain, what little limited brain power I’ve got, that’s up in there.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And then the administrative part – the part that doesn’t require my expertise, it requires Margie’s expertise. Or it requires her expertise to give it to somebody else who could also handle it.

So it’s a – it’s a little bit, the feel of it David is like I work for Margie. So, we have a common calendar that is – has my stuff on it, and she is the one who owns that calendar. I’m allowed to look at it, but I can’t do anything to it. I can’t put an appointment on there. It all goes through her, because she owns that calendar. And that’s an administrative function.

DAVID ALLEN: Do you have your own personal calendar in addition to this?



DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: It’s up there. If my husband wants a Friday night date, he’s got to go talk to Margie. Ha, ha.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And she puts it on the calendar and lets me know. If I want to take an afternoon off, I don’t have to ask permission, but I have to – you know, I’ll say to her, “What can we block off?” And the thing that keeps us connected David is the weekly review and I’ll give you more about that later, but to actually answer your question, the calendar part is on Google. We standardized on Google and that’s shared.

The contact list, again, I can look at it, I use it for reference because it sinks into my IPhone, so I have it current all the time, but she’s the one who makes entries to it or edits it or changes it.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Uh, we have the project list, or the projects for this job, so while we both might be doing different parts of a project, we have a common project list.

DAVID ALLEN: Hmm, um hm.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Now if there’s something that only she is working on, like cleaning out dictation files or whatever, it still goes on the project list, but it’s got an “M” next to it. And if I’m the only person doing anything about a project, it’s just my little thing, like uh for example I have a list of learning projects – things I want to learn about, then that’s got a “D” on it …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … so that we know that just is mine and that’s something that she doesn’t really need to be involved in, until I say, “Hey could you tee this part up for me?” or, “Could you collect this research for me?” and then she’s part of that project as well, but we do different parts of it. And her job in essence is to do the first cut.

We have a single e-mail address that’s the e-mail address for the job.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So she set up rules in Google that say, “Hey, do a first cut. Here’s what junk would look like, here’s what, you know, goes into the important priority top of that.”

They have that wonderful function in their priority in-box …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … where you can set rules to say, “Bring this up to the top and give it a mark” and “Hey you know what that is?” And so she lets the system do the first cut and she’s put all these wonderful rules in there and then she does the second cut to say, “Okay what here could be done by somebody else? What could be done by me?” And then I have a phantom e-mail box that’s not published and she sends me the stuff that I have to deal with.

DAVID ALLEN: Hmm, cool.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But it’s like I work for her. She tells me where I’m going, she hands me what I’m supposed to be carrying, she – you know, she’s out in front of me and in order for her to be able to do that, she has to own the calendar, she has to be the interface, so that she knows if my In Conversation is coming up with David Allen, here’s what we need to do to get prepared and then that folder is available to me a week or whenever it is it needs to be ahead for me to do that prep and it shows up on my calendar that you’re prepping for the David Allen call kind of thing.

DAVID ALLEN: So where do next actions go? How does that work?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well if we’re collecting it, we use the tool, it’s a very, very simple tool, but it shows up on the Mac, it shows up on the IPad and it shows up on the IPhone and it’s called “To-Do List”, and we just have two. We have Margie and Deb. So if I come up with something and I think, “Ooh – I was Margie to help with me that.” If I’m not gonna call her about it, if I’m away, ‘cause I’m away about three weeks out of every month, I’ll just pop it on her to-do list and that’s a capture tool for her. And if she has something she needs me to add to my list, that’s my capture tool.

My action list, I own that and I actually keep my list on paper.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: She, however, keeps her action list in OmiFocus. She’s a big OmiFocus fan and loves it. So our project list is in OmiFocus where we can both take a peek at it, but her action list is over there. I don’t monkey with her action list, but if I need to put something in her in-box, we do that to-do list tool because it’s common to both of us.

DAVID ALLEN: Fabulous. Well it’s wonderful that you guys have worked out a system like that. Did she – has she been with you since you did GTD and you guys did that together? I think you mentioned that, right?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Um, we did it together. I was doing GTD kind of by myself first.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Margie’s been with me nine years now and uh so – I was starting to do it in the beginning and no we didn’t work that way in the beginning, but part of it was because my previous assistant Nancy, uh her husband moved to Paris and for some reason she decided to go with him. I can’t imagine why.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha – really?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Margie came into the picture and Margie had had experience as an executive assistant before and she understood this partnership thing, how you work in partnership and I really didn’t. So she laid kind of quiet for about six months and she was watching and then she started to make suggestions about how we could do this together and the technology at that time really didn’t support us very well, so there was a whole lot more paper-shuffling back and forth and then we tried, when it became available a couple years ago, tried Cloud tools and the thinking thing with Outlook, but it was always very cumbersome and now, because we do have the capability of using the Cloud tools and the Google synchronization, we’re – it’s just smooth as it can be. So …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … when we do our weekly review together.

DAVID ALLEN: That’s very cool. As you know that’s a big recommendation that I have. When you work with somebody like that, you kill so many birds with that stone.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Oh my gosh, yeah. And we could never do what we do if we didn’t have that ability to do that, so it’s every Thursday, the time differs based on where I am in the world, but it’s always on Thursday, because it gives us Friday to fix anything that we have to fix; 100% it’s always my fault if there’s something to fix – it’s never …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But it’s usually my fault that I’ve forgotten to tell or something, or I had a conversation with somebody that I didn’t put on the to-do list for her and so, it’s usually my thing that I messed up and we find it when we look at the last two weeks to see if there are any open loops.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: It’s always me buy …

DAVID ALLEN: How long does it take you to do this usually? What’s the – what kind of time do you guys block for this?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Uh we block an hour. It usually doesn’t take us all that long because we have the template that we follow. Um, I spend maybe about 20 minutes getting ready for that interface, just to make sure I have everything teed up that I want to talk to her about, so it’s sort of my own mini-weekly review if you will and then we go over um, the past two weeks, the upcoming eight weeks just to see who’s gonna be doing what to who and what’s on the plate coming up, uh travel-wise, customer interface-wise – that kind of thing.

We go over our top eight which are the top eight projects on the list, our common project list, to make sure that they’re healthy and happy and then we drop down if we have enough time that we can keep dropping down and going through. It’s – it’s your responsibility of you’re working on the thing to have your next action teed up, so there’s never a question – do we have one teed up? But we sometimes need to exchange information on those projects, so …

DAVID ALLEN: So of the other 25 people in your company, to what degree are you motivating or intimating based upon how well you do this?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Ha, ha, ha, ha. I’ve never found intimidation to be particularly effective. It could just be me and I …

DAVID ALLEN: No, but you may not be trying to be that, but how do the rest of your folks deal with GTD or interface with it, if at all?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: I find the topic of personal productivity very, very personal so I don’t dictate tools to anybody.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: If you want to interface with me, you got to go through Margie or you got to interface in how we implement this, but whether they use paper or they use whatever they want to use, be my guest, as long as you can answer the seminal questions and you’re using the same thought process. So you have to be able to tell me what’s the outcome, what are the next actions you have teed up? We do that as part of our meeting strategy, we do that as part of our project strategy, so the thinking is what’s uniform.

DAVID ALLEN: And a common lexicon. I agree with that.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And a common lexicon, yes. But if you want to write it on your foot, I don’t really care, as long as you – we operate on a results orientation, so everybody has a performance contract and as long as you’re meeting your performance contract I really don’t care if you show up in the office every day, if you’re hanging out in the pool, it doesn’t make a difference to me. If you like to work at midnight, be my guest. If you want to work a regular workday, be my guest. I don’t care, as long as you hit your performance contract. When you don’t hit the performance contract, that’s when we’d have a conversation and every Friday I get something called a one-sheet, which uh really results from their weekly reviews, but it’s a lists of all the projects that we have going on in the organization, so on any Friday we can be running, I don’t know – 170 to 200 and some odd projects that are going on, so a consulting engagement would be a project or …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: You know, that kind of thing. And on the left hand side, it’s gonna have a color code, which is either red, green or yellow, the stoplight thing.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And if it’s green, it means all of the measurement parameters are being satisfied, so the parameters around time-frame, the parameters around cost and budget, the parameters around quality and quantity of what we’re delivering and if that’s all healthy, it’s green, I have the name of the client, I have the name of the consultant who’s working with them, just so that I can say, “Thank you for keeping this so green” and I want to know where the green stuff is.

And if it’s yellow, then one of those three parameters is off and then I need a little bit of verbiage, not a lot, but a little bit about what’s being done to get it back on track and when do they think that will occur.

And then if it’s red it means two of those parameters are off and then I really want to be involved. So first time around you have your choice of how you’re going to involve me and if you don’t I’m gonna involve myself so people are really smart that we work with and they usually involve me ahead of time so I’m not surprised. And we don’t have a lot of reds, but I do want people to do that weekly look at their stuff and do a weekly review. If they do it exactly the way I do great, and if they don’t great, as long as we get the right results – so. We need people to have eyes on and be on top of that all the time.

And there’s great peace of mind to that. Then you never have the sense that something’s flying free and you don’t quite have your arms around it.

DAVID ALLEN: So have you gotten more used to having nothing on your mind?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Ha, ha, ha – yes! I have! I absolutely have.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: One of the questions I’ve heard you ask people is how you get away and how you get time off and it really made me stop and think because I don’t do a lot of that only because I really love what I do, so I’m kind of play for pay every day.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But uh, I’ve given up working any kind of work on Sundays and if I’m traveling, I’m reading stuff that I’d like to read, not business stuff and you know, I sometimes do have to travel on a Sunday, but no working on Sundays, where I really get a chance to just power down and get a little bit of break that way and it occasionally will take two or three days and go play hooky when we can fit it in with my husband’s schedule.

DAVID ALLEN: And three weeks out of the month to travel, so you obviously, as I, serious Road Warrior …


DAVID ALLEN: … and merit badge here for all of that. Uh, to what degree do you change your system as you travel or now – you’re so Cloud based it kind of doesn’t matter, especially if you get on a nice wired airplane you know, these days. There’s really no difference huh?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: There really isn’t – if I’m not on a wired airplane, then I’m going, I’m working on my airplane list, which are things to think about or ponder or since I have some quiet time all to myself with my Bose headset on, when I want to think about and create and work on while I’m there. So – but it really – some of the mechanics change in that I carry two of your – you know the red in-folder that you manufacture? Yeah.

DAVID ALLEN: Oh. I live closely to it and within it.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Yes. Sleep with them under your pillow kind of thing.

DAVID ALLEN: Really. Yeah.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But I have two of those in my briefcase and when I get to the hotel room, one stays in my briefcase and one goes on – wherever the counter is that I’m gonna put the room key on and you, scraps of paper or something that are in my pocket – whatever, but I need that place because that’s my center and then the – I know where the room key – I know where everything is and then I go out and do my thing that day and then I collect into that, that in-envelope that I have – my folder and then I come back and I process that at night and the other in-folder goes in the briefcase, the one that’s clean and that one sits under where the room key is. So I keep rotating them back and forth, otherwise, I’ll never find the key to the room and I won’t get to go do what I’m supposed to do, so …

DAVID ALLEN: That’s really smart. I’m gonna do that when we get off this call, I’m gonna go add another in – I’m gonna try that out. How cool! Can I do – well I do the same thing, I just indicate visually but …


DAVID ALLEN: … but you’ve even taken that a further step so you don’t even have to think where it is. Just look – where’s the red?


DAVID ALLEN: And that’s where the business card and the receipt and …


DAVID ALLEN: … and all that stuff goes.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Absolutely. And then the other thing is that I do have to make sure that I process that at night. I don’t want it collecting for a week and a half and then dive in there. That would be one of the things that would push me off, so …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … I want to get it cleared out. If I’m having dinner with somebody and it’s a business dinner, it might go for a couple days, but not really much more than that. That makes me uncomfortable, so I want to get it processed through.

And then the rest of it is just uh – we are so Cloud based that no it doesn’t really change. I always have my book with me and I use the little Levenger circa-notebook and I have the rodeo paper in it because I’m a sucker for really nice paper …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … and a really nice pen, that feels right. I think better that way. And so with that I always have a way to collect things and …

DAVID ALLEN: What size do you like in terms of your paper stuff?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Um, the 5-1/2 by 8-1/2.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Yeah. If I’m mind-mapping the bigger the better. Um, I have a double wide architect’s paper, behind me in my office. Um, I buy it in auction, I think two brothers built this thing because they were both architects and they liked to sit side by side, so it’s this big huge architect’s table and I’ve got easel chart paper that’s length-wise, if you will, laid out landscape on it. So I have huge drawing surface and when I’m planning something or I’m putting something together or whatever, I’ll start drawing on that. I treated myself to the entire set of 98 colors of markers.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: I kept that next to it as well. And I like that big space, but if I’m gonna lug it around or really too lazy to take big stuff, so 5-1/2 by 8-1/2 works for me.

DAVID ALLEN: You mentioned mind-mapping. I’m curious did the natural planning model when you came across my stuff, did that ring your bell, were you already doing that, and to what degree have you used that model or something like that with how you guys approach things?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: We do use the natural planning model. I had been mind-mapping before that …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … but I think your model gave us better questions to ask and in a better sequence. So um, we’ve kind of taken that sequence if you will and made a template out of it, about the outcomes it’s supposed to generate, what are the standard, all that stuff.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And uh, when I’m thinking about playing with something, I have two mind-maps going. One of them is the brain dump where it’s just, if it was in my brain I dump it somewhere, but eventually it’s gonna get onto that templated mind map that represents the natural planning model so that I can see where the holes are almost immediately and get to filling those.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So I’ve added some discipline to it. Up until then it was just sort of the brain dump and then, “Look at that!” I got a lot of stuff I’m missing. What the heck do I do with it?

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah. Well you know, it’s – one of the things, you know, I tend to say a good bit these days is that I didn’t, and GTD really didn’t make up anything. We didn’t – this is not like it’s some new foreign language or technology. It’s really just making explicit what we all do implicitly when things really work and just – you know, when it becomes explicit, you can do it with more elegance and ease and class and refinement.

So what you were just talking about is a great example of exactly that. You know, it was sort of a natural process you know, to begin with, but making it more conscious of what that natural process really is. You can – it adds another dimension to it.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And it really helped me I think David because I’m not as organized a thinker as you’d give me credit for. It sort of comes to me in big bursts and not all of it is great stuff mind you, but it comes nonetheless, so mind-mapping was a great way to be able to capture all of those things and not feel like I had to put it in order right away and that the ease of that was very helpful, but I didn’t have the discipline, the right question. So the natural planning model really brought it into focus, if you will, if you were focusing the lens of a camera, really made it crystal clear and that helps a lot. So we use that in all of our project planning. You got to be able to answer those – again the seminal questions, whether you do it using mind-mapping to capture your thinking, if you’re a big list maker, if you – you know, write it on your foot, I don’t care, post-it notes, whatever you like, as long as you can come with that templated document and be clear about your thinking and it’s really about the clarity of thinking and I think more than anything else. But we use mind-mapping in a lot of different ways here, so we also use it to take notes, all our meeting agendas go out on mind-maps and then people take notes on the maps so the meeting minutes are self generated.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: I’ll use it to sketch out a book I’m gonna read so kind of lay out the bones, so that I can capture what I want to capture from the map book ahead of time.

DAVID ALLEN: Oh, that’s smart. Cool. Cool.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well it – it – don’t give me credit for that. Thank you, but if you read Tony Buzan’s the Mind Map Book …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … he gave you eleven different ways to use it and some of them are receptive, like taking notes, that kind of thing, some of them are pro-active like planning a meeting or kind of scoping out the book ahead of time to kind of see. You can see the bones of the book by the table of contents.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So you kind of get a feel for it and I’ll read something with the idea of: here’s what I want to get out of it, so that I can give myself permission that if halfway through I haven’t gotten anything out of it, I can just leave it and go onto the next.

DAVID ALLEN: How have you used the horizons? I know you’ve been to Making It All Work …


DAVID ALLEN: … the seminar that we focused a good bit more on the horizons. Did that – do you have any kind of a formal or standard or structured way that you approach the different levels of your commitments?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Uh, that’s an interesting question. Let me think about that for a minute. I do use the Horizons of Focus. I wouldn’t say my use necessarily changed. I – I have been to Making it All Work, but I come for the jazz. You know …

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: The music’s great and to hear the elegance of your vernacular. You are very precise in your words and your word construction and I just love – I could listen to you all day, but um I – I way back when got very clear, back in the days when we were reading about the [INAUDIBLE 00:56:02] stuff, the roles and goals and all of that thing. I really got very clear about what roles I wanted to be using as a – in my work life if you will, and then what roles in my own personal life.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: You’ve heard that spiel about um – think about when you die, what do you want people to say about you at your funeral?


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Yeah, well I’ll be dead, so I don’t really care.

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: But I do care about if I were Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year, or on the cover of the – you know, the front page of the Wall Street Journal for a good reason, not a bad reason …


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … but you know, that’s kind of – I’d rather form the thinking around it that way, then imaging when I’m dead and everybody’s talking about me.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So I sort of developed that Horizons of Focus based on how do I want my life to unfold, ‘cause I’ve only got one, so I’d better play it the way I want to play it. And then, sort of backing it down from there. So I have a set of roles and then all the projects have to satisfy one or more of those roles. If they don’t then they’re not gonna make the cut. They hit the someday/maybe.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And someday/maybe is, for me, not everybody here does this, but for me I split them into someday means I’ve made a commitment to it, I just don’t have a date yet, and maybe means I haven’t made a commitment to it.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: I’m just kind of playing with the idea, but there’s no commitment involved.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So commitment became a dividing line for us.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Yeah, but I – and I named those Horizons of Focus things that I – that I found kind of captured the essence for me.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: So I have as whole role that’s a learning role and it’s called Resonance Genius; not that I am a resonance genius or ever will be, but it’s the – you know, it’s the pinnacle that you could hit.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: And that – the things that fulfill that role.

DAVID ALLEN: That’s fabulous. That’s great stuff and again, you already sort of naturally doing that and it sort of drives your stuff anyhow, so nice to hear how you do that.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Well just all of your systems I think gave us systematic and gave me systematic thinking about some of the things that I was doing – they weren’t tightly integrated enough. They weren’t each contributing to the betterment of the other, so I would have thoughts about that, but didn’t really fit them all together until I got involved with GTD.


Okay. I have to ask you this question, ‘cause you are …


DAVID ALLEN: … such an elegant and articulate person about this and have been doing it for so long, what’s your advice to newbees who’ve run across this, who might be listening to this and going, you know, “Uh I’m not sure …” or what could you tell them to coach them if you were – if they were sitting here right by you?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Let’s see. We’ll I’d start with a couple things. First of all, don’t let David terrify you. Um …

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Don’t really get scared about it. It’s not scary. Uh, I think I would suggest to people that the magic isn’t so much in the tool as it is in the thought process. Once you get your thought process straight, then the tool will kind of evidence itself based on circumstances and convenience and all the things you think about when you’re choosing a tool, but just start. Get a piece of paper, get it out of your head. Um, as you often say, “You’re head is a terrible place to keep things because it doesn’t remind you you need batteries when you’re in the store where they sell them, it reminds you when you’re in the shower and can’t do anything about it” and it’s an awful tool to use. And so get it out of your head. And don’t be afraid to start a weekly review, even if you don’t have a “whole system” set up yet. Just take yourself forward and get that habit of every week allowing yourself the luxury to really step back and breath deep and recognize that you can have eyes on everything so that you can spend the rest of your week making and moving and making and moving.

And I think the other thing I would suggest to newbees is when they are putting things on a list, uh that advice that you’ve given people about a verb.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Our construct for a task is verb, object of that verb, outcome. So call Sam to get the most recent budget numbers.

And when I was 30 I used to be able to put Sam on my list and I knew exactly what that meant, and then I turned 40 and I couldn’t remember what I was doing with Sam.


DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Am I calling Sam, writing Sam, dating Sam? I don’t know. What’s he doing on my list? And then when I turned 50 I couldn’t remember who the heck Sam is and why I’ve got to have anything to do with him or her. And I’ve turned 60 now and I can hardly read my own handwriting. That’s a different challenge, but …

DAVID ALLEN: Ha, ha, ha. That’s funny.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: … the whole thing overall is the fact that I don’t think my thinking is finished about it until I have a verb and an object of the verb and an outcome. And I got to finish the thinking about it to have peace of mind about it. So the one thing that I would really encourage them most about is get started and get clear about your thinking when you put it down. Otherwise you’re just gonna have a collection of uncompleted thinking which won’t help you.

DAVID ALLEN: Fabulous stuff Deb.

Well I think – I – I could keep going, so hopefully this will be a never-ending conversation that we can continue but …

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: I hope so too.

DAVID ALLEN: … for now, thank you so much.

And people listening to this might be very interested in getting in touch with you specifically and directly. Is that okay and if so how would/could should they do that?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Absolutely, I’d be happy to help anybody I can, any way I can. The best way is to use our e-mail address which is DSH (stands for my initials, Deb Smith-Hemphill) so dshconsult (it’s all small letters, all one word) @gmail.com.

DAVID ALLEN: Fabulous.

Deb, thank you so much.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: You’re very welcome. Thank you David. It was a real treat.

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah. We’ll have to do one again where we talk about the next generation as well.


DAVID ALLEN: Okay. And what more help you and I both need when we pass 70. How much more explicit do you think we’re gonna need to get?

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Ha, ha. I don’t know. I’m gonna have to learn to type better that’s for darn sure.

DAVID ALLEN: Anyway – all the best and thank you again.

DEB SMITH-HEMPHILL: Thank you David.

IN CONCLUSION, DAVID ALLEN: Well lots of goals to be mined in this one to be sure. As I listen back to our session I heard several key things I hadn’t heard like I could have while I was in the conversation initially. So it might be worth a re-listen for some of you, such as GTD giving you permission to rethink your avoidance of something instead of just feeling guilty or working harder. And the validation of GTD as a thinking process to knit together latent best practices we’re all doing anyway.

Thanks for joining us, in conversation and do stay connected.

7 Responses to “Episode #11 – GTD at the Executive Level”

  1. Aaron McCullough says:

    Deb mentioned a book title that gave further insights to how she uses mind maps. It would be helpful to have the title listed in the show notes so I don’t have to listen to the podcast again.

  2. GTD Times Staff says:

    Hi Aaron. We’ll see if we can track this title down for you.

  3. He claims stress can be reduced and productivity increased by putting reminders about everything you are not working on into a trusted system external to your mind. In this way, you can work on the task at hand without distraction from the “incompletes.”

  4. Eckart says:

    Hi, could you send me a podcast transcript of this interview?
    thank you, best regards, Eckart

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