Getting Things Done® – David Allen's GTD® Methodology David Allen's GTD® Methodology Thu, 17 Aug 2017 16:13:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 67790724 5 Signs You’re Getting Better at GTD Thu, 17 Aug 2017 16:13:41 +0000 1. It feels weird to keep stuff on your mind

Capturing what has your attention is a key practice with GTD. Getting better at GTD means you are capturing what’s on your mind when it shows up, moment-by-moment and keeping something ON your mind, well, it just feels weird.

2. You empty your inboxes regularly
No getting around this one. If you’re inboxes aren’t processed to zero on a regular basis (at least weekly in your Reviews), you won’t fully trust your priority decisions, because of the unknown factor of what’s lurking in any unprocessed stacks.

3. You don’t fight the Weekly Review
The Weekly Review is the glue that keeps GTD together. Getting better at GTD means you willingly create the space and time in your life to get clear, current, and creative and no longer make excuses that you don’t have time for it.

4. You feel good about what you’re not doing
This one is big, but can be subtle at the same time. GTD is as much as about feeling good about what you’re choosing to do, as it is feeling good about what you are choosing NOT to do. The latter comes from having a complete and current inventory of projects and actions so you know what’s not getting done when you are getting other things done.

5. You naturally start projects asking, “What’s the purpose?”
Projects don’t always arrive in neat packages. And, the purpose you see may not be the purpose others see. Getting better at GTD means you clarify the purpose on the front-end of projects, to make sure you and any others on the project are aligned to the “why?”.

How are you doing on these? Any areas of improvements?

–by Coach Kelly Forrister

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Getting Unstuck Mon, 07 Aug 2017 19:23:53 +0000 Got any knots? What’s your desired outcome to resolve that? What will be true when you can you declare it done? What’s your next action?



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How’s your altitude aptitude? Thu, 03 Aug 2017 15:28:52 +0000 Over the years, it has become more and more helpful in my work to help people understand the ecosystem of GTD® (particularly priorities) by framing their thinking and decision-making around my altitude model:

GROUND: Calendar/Actions – The nitty-gritty this-moment doing level. Call Fred. Buy tires. Draft proposal. Email Susan.

HORIZON 1: Projects – The things you’re committed to finish that one action won’t finish. Give Barbara a birthday party. Set up my new MacBook. Implement this year’s budget. Hire a new marketing VP.

HORIZON 2: Areas of Focus and Accountability – Current job responsibilities and status of key aspects of your personal life. What are your roles and responsibilities re: work? What areas of your personal life need to be maintained at some appropriate level? Given a review of all of those, what projects should you have on your list that you don’t have yet? Any projects on your list you should dump?

HORIZON 3: Goals and Objectives – The typical strategic level. Goals and direction of the organization and your work. Things you want to accomplish personally, in the longer term. Definition of current and new key result areas.

HORIZON 4: Vision – Career, lifestyle choices. Is this the job you want? Are you in the right game? What does success in the long term look, sound, and feel like? Talents, skills, interests.

HORIZON 5: Purpose and Principles – Life. Living the one you want? Quality of life issues. Values, balance, style, inner gifts, personal expressions.

So what about this? Well, too often I find people trying to solve a Horizon 4 problem with a Horizon 2 solution. Or trying to solve a Ground-level problem with a Horizon 5 solution. Doesn’t work—and even worse, it creates deep frustration and confusion because they know somehow that the questions that they are posing are good ones.

Whichever of these levels most has your attention is a fine place to begin, and to reassess its contents for yourself. However, trying to solve an out-of-control inbox (Ground) by agonizing about whether this is the job you should have (Horizon 4) is the Serious Pits. That’s why I usually coach on this scale from the bottom up—if your landing gear doesn’t work, it’s pretty hard to make real decisions from any other level! Getting control of where you are is a prerequisite for healthy thinking about where you should be.

–David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

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Episode #32 – The Better You Get Mon, 31 Jul 2017 23:10:56 +0000 David Allen says, “The better you get, the better you’d better get.” This podcast is about how to improve your skills, when you’re already proficient at GTD®. Coaches Meg Edwards and Kelly Forrister will guide you through some of the coaching they would give to a client who already has a solid foundation and plenty of experience with GTD.


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The best ways to deal with stress Mon, 31 Jul 2017 16:36:59 +0000 David Allen on the best ways to deal with stress: 
  • Understand first that you’re actually IN stress
  • Determine what’s causing it
  • Clarify what you’d like to have true in the situation—what’s your desired outcome, at least in terms of how you’d like to be feeling?
  • Decide if there is a next action you can take to make some positive progress toward clarification and/or resolution
  • Engage in some activity or focus that you feel will potentially improve the situation for you.
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Outsmarting Your Mind Fri, 14 Jul 2017 23:17:40 +0000 I have the feeling and the hope every now and again that in 25 years what GTD teaches will be such a “given” that we may wonder what it was like to walk around with such pressure and stress from our suboptimal thinking habits.

The advent of the “knowledge worker” society has given so many of us projects and things to do that are not nearly as clear-cut as work used to be. (Can you ever create a perfect workshop, or write a perfect article for the newsletter?) It has created a world in which we’ve given our minds tremendous work to do. But we’ve also grown up trusting that our minds could (and should) handle it all from beginning to end (because, aren’t they smart!?).

The problem is, much of the pressure I witness going on for people is their mind trying to do things that it doesn’t do very well. Most people are thinking about how they should be thinking about what they should be thinking about. And then trying not to think about that! They’re not finishing the exercise of the thought process required for completing what it should be thinking about, nor ensuring that they have good trustworthy action-level systems in place to manage the task of reminding themselves about the results of what they’ve come up with in that clarifying process.

Our minds seduce us regularly. When you’re thinking of something, some part of you is convinced that because it’s so evident at that moment, it will never forget it, and will supply that information or perspective or thought at the appropriate time and place. If that were really true, that would be great. It’s not. Otherwise you would never even need an external calendar—your head would know exactly where you needed to be when (as well as having a consistently correct view of everything coming toward you in your future!).

When you make agreements with yourself about something (“I would, could, should, might, ought to, etc.”) your mind, dutiful servant that it is, will be glued to that task until it is given further instructions. With no sense of past and future in its short-term memory bank, however, it creates instant and unresolvable conflict if it has more than one thing to do. Learning how to manage this is as straightforward as learning how to scramble eggs. You just have to act from the place that is smarter than your mind.

–David Allen


How is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person?—Duc de la Rochefoucauld


This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.


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Episode #31 – David Allen talks with Dr. Theo Compernolle Thu, 13 Jul 2017 15:48:50 +0000 David talks with Dr. Theo Compernolle, a doctor with a 35-year background in medicine, psychiatry, teaching, and research. His most recent book is Brain Chains. You’ll find this interview to be educational, and perhaps challenging, as you learn that we may be using technology in counter-productive ways.

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GTD Webinars Wed, 05 Jul 2017 18:39:49 +0000 There are two great live video webinars being offered this month on GTD Connect, David Allen’s online learning center.

1. GTD & Outlook—July 20, 2017
This webinar is packed with practical tips and tricks to get you up and running with a trusted GTD system in Outlook for Windows. Learn how to best structure the Tasks section to track your projects and next actions, effectively manage your email and calendar, use the Notes section for storing reference, and more.

2. Guided GTD Weekly Review—July 27, 2017
Experience what David Allen calls the “critical success factor” with GTD, by going through a complete GTD Weekly Review. You’ll get a taste of all 11 steps of the process, with helpful coaching along the way.

GTD Connect also offers a ton of other GTD content you won’t find anywhere else, including over 100 recorded webinars with the GTD coaches, audio and video library, What’s New with David Allen blog, educational articles, Intention Journal, member forums, and more.

Learn more  |   Questions

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Getting (back?) on the wagon with GTD Fri, 30 Jun 2017 17:33:33 +0000 It all makes sense. You want to do it. And yet, you aren’t doing it. 

If this sounds familiar in relation to your GTD practice, know that you are not alone. The methodology is incredibly powerful, but only to the extent that one actually uses it. Perhaps because of this disparity, I sometimes see clients berate themselves, asking frustratedly why, if they know GTD works so well, they aren’t doing it more.

The good news is that a few simple steps can help you start to make the behaviour changes necessary to get back on the Path of GTD Mastery. Furthermore, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or take drastic measures to get going. Here are five steps I have seen work time and again.

1. Connect with the inspirational purpose
My colleague Ed Lamont speaks about this very well in his article “Goodbye Discipline, Hello Motivation“. Simply put, carrots work better than sticks (and are much more tasty).

So, why are you doing this GTD thing in the first place? For more time with the family? To impress the boss and get that promotion? So you can feel more relaxed and in control? Take the time you need to really connect with that inspirational purpose, and to reconnect with it as you go along. The real reason you’re doing GTD, by the way, stated as though it is already true, can make a great title for the project in your system about getting back on your GTD game. Be sure to get that written down on your project list straight away. It’s a way of telling yourself that you are serious.

2. Ask yourself: What’s worked before?
You are an adult. You have had to change your behaviour many times in the past to get what you want, and to get where you are now. How did you do it?

One client reflected on training for marathons, and how the new habit of morning runs initially felt awful, but by doing it anyway they soon became enjoyable, even irresistible to him. For me, the approach of making very small inroads works to gradually stretch out my comfort zone. For example, when the dentist told me I needed to start flossing, I started out by flossing just one tooth at night. Eventually the habit of getting out the floss became second nature, and I decided that while I was there and ready, I might as well do my whole mouth. (For more on the power of small steps, see “Why Tortoise Really Won“)

These same principles — starting small, acknowledging it will “feel wrong” at first, doing it anyway — are all transferrable to establishing (or re-establishing) your GTD practice. The more important question is: what has worked for you in the past? Now apply those same techniques to upping your GTD game.

3. Replace old rewards with new
Many habits get established as part of a reward cycle. For example, the habit of spending most of one’s day in the email inbox probably has something to do with the feeling of accomplishment when you complete everything there is to do about an email, and can get rid of it. However, it’s not the best way to get an overview of all your options to be nose-down in email all day.

Instead, see if you can replace the sense of accomplishment about “doing an email” with the sense of accomplishment that comes from clarifying and organising all of your emails into projects and actions, getting the inbox to zero. Likewise, see if you can replace feeling important because you are just so busy with feeling on top of everything because you have done your Weekly Review.

You aren’t giving up the rewards of accomplishment — you are upgrading them, and upgrading your definition of accomplishment in doing so.

4. Debrief the present from the future
This one may sound a little odd, but it can be profoundly useful when you are feeling stuck about how to proceed. First, get in touch with that inspirational purpose from step one. Then, embody it. Imagine yourself fully living within that new paradigm of stress-free success. Then ask yourself: how did I get here?

Just as identifying a clear outcome can often help with the next step, so this kind of “flash forward” exercise can often give you clues as to what has to happen — both in terms of what you are willing to do differently, and perhaps what you may need to be willing to give up — to get you to there from here.

In addition to creating a project in your system about getting back on your GTD game, be sure to add as much of this rich detail as possible as “project support” material to review and reflect upon as you go along.

Your imaginary internal GTD master may also have more practical tips for you along the way, so feel free to “flash forward” and ask questions as often as is useful. You may be surprised at how much you already know.

5. Commit to a new habit
Finally, commit to something new. All this connecting with purpose, rewiring definitions of accomplishment, and strategising with the end in mind still won’t get you back on your GTD game unless you actually do some things differently.
The two most common habits I see people take on that help them get going are the daily review and the Weekly Review. For so many people the siren’s call of email is a great temptation. One simple way to beat it is to review your action lists first before you ever open your email. This simple daily habit, like flossing a tooth, will at least remind you that your lists are there, waiting both to receive new clarified input from email and to be worked from as a better approach than just swimming through email all day.

The second habit that really works to both establish and reboot one’s practice is the Weekly Review. In some sense, in the early days, you are falling off the wagon a little bit each week. It’s the Weekly Review that puts you back on, by re-establishing familiarity and trust with your system, and getting you into a virtuous cycle of more relaxed focus leading to more motivation to keep practicing the GTD principles that create the relaxed focus in the first place. Whenever someone is off their game, we usually start with the Weekly Review.

So, there you have it. In a nutshell: get inspired, get practical, rewire what “winning” means, consult your future self a bit, and then take the plunge and commit to actually doing something different.

There is a much smarter way to work and live. You may not have been doing it yet, but you also may already have many of the answers about what needs to change, why, and how to get yourself back on track. Ask yourself a few good questions, listen to the answers, and then get going.

Good luck, and happy wagonning.

–Robert Peake, Certified GTD Coach & Trainer, Next Actions Associates

This article was originally published on the Next Action Associates blog.


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The workforce for the next century Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:01:19 +0000 The assumption that everyone can and should do everything they have been given to do is an old industrial paradigm that does not hold water for “knowledge workers” who all have tons of projects that could be done infinitely better.

Renegotiating agreements and standards with ourselves and our world is an unfamiliar but required skill set for the majority of the workforce for the next century. –David Allen



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Your best thoughts about work… Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:54:43 +0000


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The dark side of collaborative cultures Mon, 05 Jun 2017 17:24:04 +0000
The dark side of collaborative cultures is the allergy they foster to holding anyone responsible for having the ball. “Mine or yours?” is unfortunately not in the common vocabulary of many such organizations. There is a sense that that would be impolite. “We’re all in this together” is a worthy sentiment, but seldom a reality in the hard-nosed, day-to-day world of work. Too many meetings end with a vague feeling among the players that something ought to happen, and hope that it’s not their personal job to make it so.
The way I see it, what’s truly impolite is allowing people to walk away from discussions unclear. Real togetherness of a group is reflected by the responsibility that all take for defining real things to do and the specific people assigned to do them, so everyone is freed of the angst of still-undecided actions.

–David Allen, Getting Things Done, pages 262-263.
Here’s your challenge GTD practitioners: At the end of your next meeting, be the one to hold the group accountable for asking, “What are the next actions from this meeting and who is going to own them?”

]]> 1 15966 Speeding up by slowing down… Thu, 01 Jun 2017 15:38:03 +0000 I want to talk about one of the more mysterious best practices in the GTD®methodology: the art of speeding up by slowing down.

I am making the assumption that all of you reading this are on some track of improvement and growth to begin with. I mean, why speed up, instead of slow down, as an end-result? If we were here to merely fulfill entropy, the thicker, duller, slower, and generally more unconscious we became, the more on track we would experience ourselves. I have to admit I do have some component inside of me that seems to align with that—my comedy team of Sloth and Indolence, with their cute little assistant, Gravity. Pretty seductive, especially as I move into my later years, to give in to that siren’s call.

There is a more dynamic and more “real” part of me, though. It is naturally buoyant, has direction, is continually expansive and is in upward movement. The trick is how to maximize my alignment with that. If someone asked me whether I would consider expressing that with more effort instead of less, I would say, no, I’m not interested. (For me, increasing productivity means getting a result with as little effort as possible.) But if what we’re getting to here is how to truly access more and more of that refreshing, rewarding, and fulfilling aspect of ourselves, is “working harder” required to get there…? No.

One of the subtlest ways that positive energy retreats from us is in our busy-ness. Losing perspective in trying to control everything, finish it all, fix it all—all at once. It shows up in ways like practicing Getting Things Done® out of frustration instead of inspiration, or helping yourself and others out of compulsion, not compassion.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned and continually must practice is that in order to really be in control, I must surrender. In the martial arts things must be held lightly. Grabbing too tight, whether it’s my muscles, my ego, my trowel, or my lists of projects and actions, can be dangerous and ultimately ineffective. I must at a moment’s notice be ready to let go, walk away from it all, and do nothing. Nothing at all. As a matter of fact, your ability to do nothing—to be idle, to daydream, to nap peacefully, to give yourself permission for 100% zoning out—is a hallmark of GTD maturity. And if you don’t believe me, just read the plethora of new data from the cognitive scientists about the need for the brain to rest—daily. That’s a bit tough to do, though, unless you’re REALLY onto the GTD game.

–David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.


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Managing projects with GTD Fri, 26 May 2017 16:02:28 +0000 Having a complete and current projects list is one of the cornerstones to GTD mastery. To support you in getting there, here are 10 keys to defining and managing projects:

1. Projects are defined as outcomes that will require more than one action step to complete and that you can mark off as finished in the next 12 months.

2. Think of your Projects list as a current table of contents of the current outcomes on your plate.

3. Most people have 10-100 current projects, personally and professionally.

4. Current projects have at least one next action, waiting for, or calendar action, in order to be considered current.

5. Projects that have no current next action, waiting for, or calendar action are either no longer projects for you, or should be incubated to Someday/Maybe.

6. Future actions (i.e., actions that are dependent on something else happening first) do not go on the Next Actions lists until you can take action on them. They get stored with project plans.

7. The Projects list and project plans are typically reviewed in your GTD Weekly Review, ensuring each project has at least one current next action, waiting for, or calendar item.

8. It’s fine to have multiple next actions on any given project, as long as they are parallel and not sequential actions (e.g., “Buy stamps” and “Mail invitations” would not both be on Next Actions lists for the “Put on Party for David” project given that you need to buy the stamps before you can mail the invitations).

9. Projects are listed by the outcome you will achieve when you can mark it as done (what will be true?).

10. Effective project names motivate you toward the outcome you wish to achieve, and give you clear direction about what you are trying to accomplish.

How well are you doing on these? Where do you have any gaps? What is going well for you?

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GTD Setup Guides Wed, 24 May 2017 16:01:01 +0000 Our GTD Setup Guides give you step-by-step coaching on applying GTD to some of the best software tools out there. We currently have Guides for:

Outlook for Windows
Outlook for Mac
OneNote for Windows
Evernote for Windows
Evernote for Mac
Lotus Notes
Google Apps

You can get them and see samples here.









What are we missing? What Guide should we write next? (No promises, as every tool has to pass our rigorous vetting process, but we’re always open to suggestions!)

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Episode #30 – David Allen GTD® Keynote in Milan – Part Two Tue, 23 May 2017 19:02:00 +0000 In this conclusion of a two-part episode, David Allen shares an in-depth, sweeping overview of GTD® to an audience in Milan, Italy. Learn best practices, as well as what you can expect to have happen in your life once you start applying them.

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Podcast Transcript


ANDREW MASON: You’re listening to Getting Things Done, the official podcast of the David Allen Company, with Part Two of David Allen giving a GTD Keynote in Milan, Italy.

Welcome everyone to Getting Things Done, GTD for shorthand. My name is Andrew J. Mason, and this podcast is all about helping you on your journey, practicing the art of stress-free productivity.

Today we’re excited to bring you part two of a two part episode in Milan, Italy. David shares an in-depth sweeping overview of what GTD is, some of the best practices, as well as what you can expect to have start happening in your life once you start applying it. If you missed the last episode, we recommend you start with that because today we’re excited to conclude with Part Two of David’s Keynote.

In the previous episode, David shared the first three steps of regaining control: capturing, clarifying and organizing. He picks up the conversation with the fourth step.

And now, without further ado here’s David Allen giving a GTD Keynote in Milan, Italy.

DAVID ALLEN: Now even if you’ve done those three things, you’ve captured, clarified and you’ve organized, if you don’t review what’s on those lists on some consistent basis and keep them current, the system will die on you pretty fast.

Obviously, you’ve reviewed your calendar, so you knew where to be when today. So reflection simply means to step back and look at things from some higher perspective.

Now there are many ways that you can gain higher perspective. If you’ve looked at your calendar over the last two or three days, this is what you did. You stepped back and you looked at it and said, “Ah, okay, here’s where I need to be in space and time.”

By the way, if you looked at your calendar for tomorrow, you will get different ideas than if you look at your calendar for the next whole week, which will give you different ideas than if you looked at your calendar for the next month.

By the way, if you looked at your calendar for the next six months, I guarantee you, you will get different thoughts and be reminded of different things. So even just your calendar has multiple levels and horizons essentially that you need to review and reflect on.

Obviously, if you’re going into a board meeting, you need to review all the agenda items that you might need to bring up at the board meeting.

So all of these simply mean different horizons that I get to, so I can see and feel more comfortable where I am and what I’m doing.

By the way, you know when most people feel best about their job, from my experience, is a week before a big holiday – right? Now a lot of people think they feel better because of the holiday they’re going on, but I will suggest that what you were doing a week before you go on that big holiday, is you’re stepping back, you’re organizing, reflecting and reviewing all the stuff that has to happen before you leave, all of the stuff that can wait until you come back, so that you can be nice and clear on the beach, or on the slopes or on the course. I just suggest you do it weekly, not yearly.

Now, there are multiple horizons to review and I always get the question, “Gee David, how do I set priorities out of all of these lists and all of this content?”

Well over the years, I discovered there are six horizons that we have commitments with ourselves and sometimes with other people, although all of our commitments are always with ourselves, even if they include others and these six horizons essentially define a hierarchy of priorities.

You know, at the top level, there’s ultimate intentionality. Why are you on the planet? Why does your company exist? What’s your purpose? You know, there’s a lot of popularity out there – the purpose driven organizations, purpose driven people and principles also sit up there as well. In other words, what are your core – core values? What’s really, really, really important to you? You don’t care where you live as long as what’s true? You don’t care where you work as long as what’s true?

Now, knowing your life purpose, is that gonna help you decide which e-mail to write first? Hmm – a little bit but you’re probably gonna need to review another more operational level of your commitments.

So if you step down a level, it would be – what would your life or work look like if you were wildly successfully fulfilling your purpose?

See you could have very similar purpose to the person sitting next to you, but how you’re gonna demonstrate that or express that in the world may look very, very different. A university could have the same purpose as a hospital, of improving the quality of people’s lives, but they would look very different in terms of how they would be manifesting that. So that’s the vision level. In your organizations that would be, oh usually three to five year kind of goals or pictures or images – ideal scenes, depending on the industry you’re in. If you’re in software, three months would be a long term vision. If you’re in aerospace, ten years might be your vision.

Now, is knowing what your vision of success, career wise or lifestyle-wise, is that gonna help you decide which e-mail to write first tonight? A little bit more. And then you’re probably gonna need to get down another operational level and say, “Okay, what do I need to accomplish over the next three to 24 months that’s gonna facilitate my vision coming into play; goals, objectives, strategy plans, operational plans? That’s usually this horizon. So those of you in your organizations that do annual budgeting, annual planning and so forth, that would probably be at that third level down. What are those things that you need to accomplish by the end of 2017? For you personally, what do you want to have true over the next year or so? Now will that help you decide which e-mail to write first? A little bit more.

But then if you drop down operationally to the next level, then you have a level of things that you don’t complete. You have a level of things to maintain. So areas of focus, that would be areas of responsibility essentially. What are held accountable to do well in your job? Asset management, customer support, quality control, advertising, sales – you don’t finish growing sales I’m sure you know. You just need to make sure that you’re growing sales at some appropriate maintenance.

In your personal lives, that area of responsibility would be health and vitality, finances, your own career development, your relationships, family, your spiritual life – whatever. Those are not things you finish – those are things you just need to monitor and say, “Hey is my health okay?” If you’re gonna eat lunch today, you’re at that horizon. “Hey, I need to feed the body.” As soon as you decide to go to sleep tonight, you’re leaving family and leaving your professional career, and taking care of your energy. Sure.

Most people don’t really realized how much of your job actually oftentimes is at that area of responsibility. Much of what many of you do in here on a daily basis is you need to pick up the phone, you need to handle this when it shows up, you need to deal with those things when they show up. And that will also be a priority.

Now, if you have a nice clear job description, will that help you decide which e-mail to write first? A little bit more.

By the way, are any of you only doing what you were hired to do? Yeah – I didn’t think so. Oftentimes, it’s a real good thing at that level to get clarity with the people around you about what your job really is and what your priorities are, because things change and things are changing fast. There’s nothing new under the sun except how frequently things are new. That’s different. The speed of change is speeding up, so again these become orienting maps or orienting reviews for you to be able to see at the right time and place to feel more comfortable about what you’re doing. Now, even if you have those top four nice and clear, you then come down to the project level and the project level, as I mentioned earlier is the things that you need to finish about any of the above and I said, most of you have between 30 and 100 of those – get tires on your car, hire the assistant, launch the ad campaign, fix your eyes – all that stuff; that’s at that level.

Now if you have a complete project list, will that help you decide which e-mail to write first tonight? A lot more. But then you still need to get down to the most basic mundane operational level which is all the physical activity that you need to do, the stuff you need to buy at the hardware store, things you need to talk to your life partner about, the documents that you need to edit on the computer, the websites you need to surf. Again, most of you have between 150 or 220 of those right now. Now I couldn’t get it any simpler than these six horizons. I would like to, but those are all very different content.

How often do you need to review your calendar, down at the action level? Hmm – probably a few times a day if you’re like me. How often do you need to see all the other actions that you might need to do when you have time? Maybe once a day, every two or three days anyway. How often do you need to review the project list? Probably once a week.

As you lift up these horizons, you interval of review tends to extend.

How often do you need to review your job description? Well sometimes you need to review it simply because your job changed and you need to get clear, but it’s not a bad idea every quarter or so to re-think that, especially with partners and bosses and things like that to make sure all that’s clear.

How often should you review your strategic plan or your operational plan? Well, probably most people have a quarterly review of that to reassess, see if they need to recalibrate. Certainly annually you need to rethink that.

And how often do you need to review the vision stuff that you have? Again, Peter Drucker used to tell organizations that every five years they ought to rethink their purpose and their vision. Late in his life he changed that to every year simply because the world was changing so fast, to reassess that. And many times you just review at these levels when you have to.

If you’re married and you have a life partner and he or she comes home tonight and says, “Gee dear, I’ve just been given a major career opportunity. We’re gonna have to move to Afghanistan for a couple years, but it’ll be really cool. I guarantee you, you’ll have a vision discussion at dinner.

So many times, you know, life will force us to be re-thinking things at multiple horizons. It’s a really good idea to build in some regular habit of looking from these different horizons or these different altitudes regularly so that when surprise happens and it will, trust me – there’s things coming toward you you cannot imagine right now – good, bad or indifferent, but when they strike and that surprise happens, the more that you’ve been able to mature your thinking at these levels the easier it will be to navigate and negotiate and refocus again, because a lot of this is about being able to refocus in the midst of change and surprise.

So the worst practice here is again to let yourself be driven by latest and loudest. Best practice is to make sure that you’ve got appropriate orienting reviews at the appropriate time and place and you’re seeing things from a higher perspective as often as you need to.

Now I wouldn’t legislate that for anybody in terms of when you need to do these kinds of reviews. Just start to pay attention to whether or not you have attention on that. Some organizations need to rethink vision several times a year, simply because they’re in an industry or in a situation that is changing so rapidly.

Many times it’s just re-understanding their vision or re-understanding their purpose so they can stay competitive in the new world.

Now all of that then leads to step five of again, how do you get focus and control and that is: How do I engage now that I’ve done all of that? And you know, quite simply the best practice here is to make sure that you’ve done the first four best practices. That is, you’ve captured, clarified, organized and reviewed everything, so that then you’re making decisions not because you’re just trying to be busy.

Any time you or anybody else is in the busy trap, you know what that is – just the spinning on the wheel, faster and faster and faster. Anytime that that’s happening, it’s probably because you’re feeling not in control and not appropriately focused and you’re just trying to work harder or faster or longer to try to relieve the pressure. There is no light at the end of that tunnel.

So again, the best practice there is to make sure that you are completely have cleared your head, what the cognitive scientists now are calling building the external brain. Folks you are not your work. You do work. You are not your work, but if it’s in your head, it feels like you are the work. You actually don’t even – you’re not even your life, you have life. Right? So the fact is that all of your life commitments and all of your work commitments, the more they are externalized, objectified and you’re engaging with them from a larger perspective, the more you’ll be in this place of mind like water.

Now if you’ve got this habit down, and by the way, this is a habit, I mean these can become habits. It can take up to two years to develop these habits. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get value right away, uh but when I say habit meaning you couldn’t stand not doing this. If I made a commitment with you, ‘’Yeah Maria, I’ll get back to you about that.” I would feel really, really strange if I did not pull out my little wallet and make a note about that. That’s what I mean by a habit. Most people let your mind run you because it seems so obvious when you’re thinking about something you’re sure you won’t forget it. Ha, ha. And two minutes later when you’re thinking of the next obvious thing, you forgot – you’ve forgotten. So you’ve got to get smarter than your mind.

But this can become just a whole lifestyle that you just think this way, move this way, operate this way, from a more elevated place and if you’re having appropriate review from these appropriate horizons, then all of that put together is gonna let you surf on top of this game

Now, let me give you a quick list of some very specific things that executives get right away. It doesn’t take them two years, because once they start to experience the value of these, right away, I’ve seen almost all of this list be implemented immediately; so all of you could do this if you haven’t done it already very fast.

First of all the value of lists and particularly the project list, particularly agendas; an agenda meaning we use that for the list of things to talk to people about, because the more senior the executives are, the more their work is just done through conversations, hand-offs to other people. Also, keeping track of whatever is that they’re expecting from other people. I’ve seen so many executives just go, “Oh my God! Thank goodness I have this list now of all the things that are waiting on to come back from other people.” And they keep that regularly reviewed.

The project list, by the way, coaching executives, they see that list of 50 or 60 – 70 projects, it’s like this huge weight goes off their shoulders. It doesn’t mean that they’re not aware that there’s all that work to do, but to get it out of their head and see it from a distance. It makes a huge difference.

Once of things I see happen immediately once I spent 12 or 15 hours with an executive, going through all of their incompletes and having them make next action decisions, I leave – they are still making next actions decisions quickly. So when they come back from a board meeting with a lot of notes, they don’t let it just lie in their briefcase. They may throw it in their in-try and then quickly get their in-tray empty by making next action decisions about that. And particularly, the two minute rule – when they start to implement that, they start to see how many things start to take off and progress is made on them, just without having to do much thinking about it.

Something else executives get that when I’ve coached them is the value of having at least an hour of white space during the day, because it’s gonna take you at least an hour to process new stuff coming in that day and keep it captured and organized.

I’ve got several executives that have their assistants hold the world back until 9:00 a.m. – no meetings and they come in at 7:30 or 8:00 o’clock and use that to clean house and get ready for the flood that’s gonna happen at 9:00, but understanding that it’s gonna take that much time. So if you’re letting yourself get booked wall to wall, you’re gonna get behind; just being aware I need white space.

Also, many executives really start to catch that this is the master-master key, is being able to build in reflection time. First of all, having the tools, meaning this content out – this inventory of all of their commitments, but then taking time to use that to step back and reflect on the whole game.

Most executive development people that I’ve met in very large corporations, one of our big clients is Seaman’s this small little 400,000 person company – right. And the head of executive development, big champion of our stuff, he told me, he said, “David, the – the – major – major thing (for the 5,000 executives that he was responsible for) that they’re not doing is building in reflection time.”

So we coach people particular a two hour weekly slot. You need to build in a two hour weekly review, once a week. You could do it on Fridays, you could do it Monday mornings, you could do it Sunday night, but sometime you need to step away, step back and see things from a higher perspective and catch up. I mean how many of you have had something show up in the last three or four days that you know you now need to handle and resolve or take care of but you haven’t had time yet to identify the project or what to do about it, you just know you’ve got it. Me too! And when are you going to do that? – kind of thinking. That won’t happen when you’re out there with e-mail and down in the weeds and the day to day work. It has to be built in some sort of a reflection time. So if you do not have that built in yet, that could be one of the best take-aways, hopefully from what I’m talking about here is build in regular time to catch up. We call it pull up the rear guard. I need to make sure I get current again with my life and my work. Don’t wait ‘til the annual holiday to do that kind of thing. Start to build it in weekly. And it will take two hours usually. You may not use all the two hours, but you’ll use it for some good reason I’m sure. There’s probably good planning and other kinds of things that you could be doing.

The other thing that I really get oftentimes right away is the value of being able to see not only just their work stuff, but also their personal life altogether in one big inventory of the whole game. Many executives have let their personal life go to hell because of all of their focus on their professional world, which they’ve done very well, but many of them spend most of their time with me actually getting a lot of their personal life together that they have not been able to manage or they haven’t managed as well as they’ve managed their professional life. So understanding that these principles apply all the way across the board, not just something isolated to do at work. And much of what’s taking their energy at work is their personal stuff, their investments, their kids going to school, their elder-care for their parents, I mean all kinds of things out there that are going on in people’s personal lives that they also need to put through this same process to be able to make that work.

Now I’ve kind of given you the high level big why about this kind of methodology, why it’s so important to empty your head, build the external brain and perhaps some techniques about how to do that, but let me take a few minutes now and just deal with some of the questions that you may have, some questions that you may have sent to me. I think they’re gonna be showing it to me here, so if you have any questions you would like to ask and I’d be very happy to answer any of them.

So, first question: How to deal with daily routine activities – should we put them in a mail folder or in a to-do list?

Daily routine activities: Well the big questions would be are they obvious to do? In other words, daily routine – is it obvious. I don’t need to write down “do laundry” – no underwear makes that obvious. Right? I don’t need to write down “eat lunch” – hunger makes that obvious. So a lot of my daily routines I actually don’t need to tract externally because I will get appropriate external triggers. My wife and I go to pretty much the same farmers markets and markets when we buy food and we barely need to write a list because all we have to do is walk down the market aisles and the foods themselves will remind us what we need or what we don’t. So if the daily routine is not something that you need a reminder for, then don’t bother. You got enough stuff to track. If your routine however is something that you forget or that you might not do because you get distracted by other things, then oftentimes a check-list is the best way to handle that.

Now essentially all of these lists are check-lists. They’re lists to check to see what you need to do, make sure you don’t miss something. So sometimes people like to have a daily checklist: Have a meditated sufficiently? Have I exercised? Have I acknowledged my staff or have I processed receipts or have I done whatever all those things are.

So I would say do as little as you can get by with, but get the stuff off your mind. So whatever you need to do to get those daily routines off your mind because you can trust they will get done is what you need to do. Essentially that’s gonna be my universal answer to almost anybody about almost anything. People say, “Well what should I do about these things?”

I will say, “Well what would you need to do to get that off your mind?” So off your mind is either because I don’t need a reminder because the world is letting me know, obviously, or it’s off my mind because I have plugged in reminders that I will see at the right time. Those are the reasons that you would need to write something down.

How to keep track of the projects and activities we delegate? Well again, just have a waiting-for list, make sure you keep track of that and then that’s included in your weekly review. Once a week you need to pull up that list and go through it to then see if you now need to light fires or poke at somebody or do something to move the ball on these things you’ve handed off.

Now ideally, you’re waiting for a list, once you make that list will be available to you in case a staff person walks in and you can look at the list and say, “Let me check to see if you need any help on the six projects I’ve given you. How’re you doing on …” a, b, c, d, e. So it’s nice to have it available to you whenever you might want to do it, but that waiting-for list is – you don’t need but one list. It’s a good idea to put who you gave it to and certainly if there’s an expected date on it in terms of when the deliverable is due. Those are good things to track on that.

I have a little piece of software that automatically when I click on it and I click a little button that says “waiting-for” it automatically puts the person’s name that I’m writing the e-mail to and automatically date stamps it. Great – keep track of that.

Uh, which project management tools or apps do I suggest? Well it’s a good question. Essentially all you need are lists, so any kind of an app that can provide lists so that it’s easy to get to it, easy to see it, easy to ad things to it will work. At last count there were over 300 apps that had been built around the GTD methodology – not mine, but they’re almost showing up weekly now, because they’re really just list managers, with just different kinds of bells and whistles on them.

I know people that just use Excel. They make a spread sheet for all these lists ‘cause they’re kind of Excel freaks and they’re geeky enough to be able to make that work. You know, Google’s been a major client of ours and a lot of the Googlers use their online spread sheet – Google docs. They don’t use the task function – that’s really funky, but the Google docs spread sheet actually is a good list manager. Many of them use that.

If you have Outlook, Outlook is probably the most popular desktop app at least in big corporations out there. You can structure the task function inside of Outlook really well, but not the way it comes out of the box. You need to reconfigure it so it becomes just a good list manager and you can do that pretty well. There is a document on our web site that you can get that actually walks you through how to reconfigure Outlook so that it becomes a good list manager and it can work really well. It’s a powerful tool as long as you work it appropriately.

I use Lotus Notes, so I just use the task function inside of Lotus Notes, very simple, very similar to Outlook. That works really well as well.

And by the way, it doesn’t have to be digital. As a matter of fact, there’s probably no better list manager than a loose leaf planner – paper based. I used one for 20 years, the one out of Copenhagen, Times System. Brilliant – wonderfully designed planner. Because actually the way your brain works, it’s a lot easier actually to see in paper than on paper lists of larger context of your life and your work than it is digital. Now I love the digital stuff too, but even with a thunderbolt screen which I have, that real estate still can’t see the whole of the picture like I could with my paper planner.

I know a bunch of high tech folks that are actually going back to using paper planners now, simply because it tends to work better in a certain way in terms of how your brain works.

If any of you were in Tony’s stuff yesterday, I’m sure Tony talked about just externalizing a lot of the thinking and mind-mapping – those kinds of things, even though there are mind-mapping tools digitally out there as well, a lot of people still prefer hand-written, just the way that kinesthetic part of your body and movement seems to effect how you think very appropriately.

So there’s no right way to do it. There’s no perfect system. Once you catch GTD in this process, you can make any system work. If you don’t have this process and you’re just trying to get a new app to have it fix your life – good luck. That won’t work.

So how long does it take to implement the GTD method? Well you did it in a few seconds, meaning implement. Hey it takes as long as it takes to write stuff down, decide a next action on it. So you can immediately do this, but the question probably is how long does it really take to make this really work? If you were going to actually do the process of going through capturing everything that has your attention and making all of these decisions about actions and outcomes, projects and so forth, it can take you a good two days to do that. That’s why we found that’s a typical kind of a coaching implementation that we do. We don’t really do so much coaching like you would behavior change, it’s really just an intense implementation of this process that can take several hours. I would suggest if you feel inspired by this at all, the center part of my book, Getting Things Done, actually walks you through our coaching process step by step. Take this here, put this here, get these tools – here’s how you would actually do that and I would give yourself at least a half a day or at least two or three hours perhaps to make a step forward, because many of you know, as soon as you start to change the system that you’re using, it’ll feel like your feet are on two icebergs, so you kind of want to get it all into one thing and not spread stuff around in terms of your system. And there’s no one thing that will hold everything. Again, I’ve got reference material in lots of different places, in terms of even project management, I use mind manager, I use a mind-mapping software. That’s where a lot of my project thinking goes when I’m thinking about a project itself.

So it takes about two minutes to understand the process – hey keep potentially meaningful things out of your head, decide sooner than later what they mean and what you’re gonna do about them, park the results in a trusted place, step back and review the whole game, make good trusted choices about what you do. That’s the 22nd, version of GTD.

Now I’ve been giving you the two hour version of GTD in here this morning. And then there’s the two day version of actually going and actually doing this, and doing this in real time with your own real stuff. And then it takes about two years for this to become a habit. It doesn’t take two years to get the value out of it. You get the value out of it as soon as you start to do any of this. You do nothing more than just get a few more things out of your head, you’ll improve your life. If you just keep a pen and paper by your bed you’ll sleep better, just the two minute rule will improve your life.

So this is not, like we say, running with scissors. This is nothing – there’s nothing dangerous in here that I’ve been sharing with you.

So when I say two years, what I mean is about that time to make this automatic. Come on folks, it takes two years to learn the banjo, it takes two years to learn the tango, it takes two years to learn Italian, it takes two years to learn to cook spaghetti. I don’t know how long it takes to learn to raise kids but maybe more than two years.

I live in Amsterdam now and I’m in the process of learning Dutch. I call it Alzheimer prevention. I figure it’s gonna be two years – it’s gonna be a good two year exercise to do that. But don’t let that discourage you. Again, this is a whole lifestyle shift and change for most people to think that way.

Next question is: Which are the first signals that the GTD method is working? Well, I’m curious – how many of you in here, just with the little bit that you did feel at least a little bit more in control or more focused on these things? Anybody feel at least a little improvement? Yeah – well, that’s your indication that GTD is working. Because guess what, folks – what’s changed in your world that you know of? Nothing! What changed is the major thing to change which is how you are engaged with your world just changed.

See here’s a big secret folks, Getting Things Done, is not about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with your life and work so you can be fully present with whatever you’re doing. That’s all. Now it turns out, that when you do what you need to do to be appropriately engaged with your work, you’re actually gonna end up getting a lot of stuff done because that’s what appropriate engagement then leads to, is real stuff gets done. But if I need cat food pops into your head more than once, you are inappropriately engaged with your cat. So there’s no excuse to have a thought twice, unless you like the thought. There are a lot of things I think about more than once because it’s fun to think about them – right? But what I’ve given you here is the algorithm or the formula about how to create appropriate engagement. Are you appropriately engaged with your health? Are you appropriately engaged with your board? Are you appropriately engaged with your assistant? Are you appropriately engaged with your kids? Are you appropriately engaged with your dog? Well you don’t have to far to see how to start to implement this, just start to pay attention to what has your attention. That’s where you start. And as soon as you then do what you need to do to get that off your mind, you’ll start to see that it will start to get done. There’s an inverse relationship between on your mind and getting done.

That’s why if I were in as a consultant to your team, guess the first question I would ask your team? What has the team’s attention right now? What has your senior team’s attention right now? And that’s where we’re gonna start and what I’m gonna do is go up to a big white board or wherever and write down the things that have your team’s attention. Then guess what I’m gonna do with those things? Well – what is this? Is this a project? Great! Who owns this? Why is this up here? Why has it got your attention? What would done look like here? And by the way, what’s the next action on this?

So again, you don’t have to go far to see where and how to start to apply the thought process. Really, a lot of what we produce is an installed thought process. What if everybody in your company made next action decisions as soon as things were on their radar? What if everybody in your organization started to think about outcome? What are we trying to produce here on this project? What are we trying to produce at this conference? What are we trying – what’s the desired outcome?

Okay, do you think that the time we are connected online is a waste of time or could it be projective? Yes.

I’m online most of the time. You know – most of my work, ‘cause that’s where it happens. You know I have a pretty virtual company and a lot of my work is responding to and writing and so forth, and I’m not necessarily online, but certainly on my computer quite a bit when I do that.

There’s a big ‘it depends’. You know social media? I deal with social media much like a cocktail party. I wander in, have a drink, wander out, maybe – maybe not. I don’t have a lot of feeling of commitment about any of the content in there, but it is kind of fun. You know, first thing in the morning, oftentimes when I’m having coffee, I’ll do a quick Facebook and a quick Instagram scan, just ‘cause of friends and it’s kind of nice to keep up with them and many of them are halfway around my world too.

So that’s fun. So social media can be a real addiction however. There’s a great book out there, by the way, it was a couple of years ago I think it was published called Brain Chains in English, Brain Chains like chains around your brain by an author in Brussels named Theo Compernolle. The reason I mention that book is Theo’s done major, major research, 650 major cognitive science research studies and he’s mashed all that up together and a whole lot of his message is about how absolutely addictive the digital world is, especially for kids.

So whether you’re doing it for a real reason, you’re always gonna have to come back to – well what’s the purpose of being online? What’s the purpose of being online? Listen if I didn’t have a job and I needed to tap my network I’m gonna be online a bunch, simply because that’s a good purpose, or a good way to then utilize that if you have that purpose. And sometimes it’s just fun. Hey – it’s fine to have fun. There are worse things you could do than surf the web. However it is highly addictive. One of the reasons it’s so highly addictive is that one of the factors of creating addition is random positive reinforcement; random positive reinforcement.

If you’re trying to train your dog, by the way, every time they do something good, you don’t want a treat every time. As a matter of fact, the more random, the more powerful the addiction to the behavior. And boy, there is hardly anything more – that has more random positive reinforcement than e-mail and social media.

Any of you golfers out there? One good stroke – one good drive will keep you coming back and hit 400 crappy ones. Right? Very addictive – very addictive. So you have to be very careful about the social media just being aware of it. So the more conscious you are about why you’re doing it – are you doing it to avoid things, are you doing it because it’s a lot easier than something else you really know you should do? Come on – that just depends on how mature you are and how well you know yourself, but in and of itself, it’s not bad. As a matter of fact, it’s great fun. I’ve been on e-mail since 1983. Couldn’t live my life or have the world that I have created for myself without those tools, so it’s a fabulous time to be alive.

By the way, another book I will highly recommend, brand new one out in English anyway, in the U.S., it’s called The Inevitable; the twelve trends that you cannot stop that are changing our world as we speak. Changing our world and Kevin Kelly is the author. He was a founding editor of Wired magazine and ten years of his research, he’s got the twelve trends that he says are gonna change our world more than the industrial revolution did and it’s just beginning. So virtual reality and artificial intelligence have just broken through as opposed to being just kind of fun stuff to actually being quite real and how that’s gonna affect our world. So if you’re interested in the technology and how the world is changing based upon the technologies, it’s a great book – The Inevitable¸ Kevin Kelly.

Another question: The must read mail should be put in an ad hoc folder? Well again, if you can read the e-mail in two minute you should do it. If what the question means is if this is an e-mail that’s gonna take me awhile to read and respond to appropriately, longer than two minutes, what do you do with those?

Well let me give you a quick tip about how to get control of your e-mail in-basket and again, I’m gonna suggest that you empty that in-basket every 24 to 48 hours. And by the way, we’ve seen 42,000 e-mails in one person’s in-basket, so don’t feel bad if you only have 2,000.

Now emptying it does not mean spending all the time on it. It does mean clarifying what those things are and then moving those to appropriate places.

First of all, you should delete all the things that you should delete. You know, a lot of you – there’s a key on your computer, I don’t know what it is in Italian, but in English it’s del. So if you haven’t learned that key yet, please find that key. Get rid of the stuff that you don’t need. You also need to file a whole lot of those e-mails in your navigator folders. I’ve got hundreds – I’ve probably got 200 navigator folders, all in one alpha list. I don’t nest folders, it’s too much trouble to open them. I’ve got one single list. Anything that’s just reference just gets dragged over into that folder that it belongs to based upon person, topic or theme and then handle the two minute stuff.

So if you delete everything you need to delete, file everything you need to file and actually do the two minute ones, you only have two kinds of e-mails left – e-mails that represent something you need to spend time on and e-mails that represent something you’re waiting on to come back from other people. For instance, if you’re tasking a staff person to do something and sending them an e-mail, I would suggest by the way that you cc or bcc yourself, so you get a copy of that tasking e-mail back in your in-basket. Now that’s a waiting-for.

So a quick way to clean up e-mail is to create two folders in your navigation folder bar, one called Acton and one called Waiting-For, but you need to use a prefix like the @ sign. If you’re using Outlook the @ sign will throw it to the top of those folders, ‘cause these need to look different than just reference folders, so you can create an @action and an @waiting-for. Then you can take all the e-mails that’s gonna take you time to deal with and drag them into the action folder, all the e-mail that represent something you’re waiting on to come back into the waiting-for folder. Guest what’s left in your in-basket? Nothing, because you’ve deleted, you’ve filed, you’ve handled the two minute stuff and now you have one bucket or one folder with all the actionable e-mails you have and one folder that just has all the things that represent something you’re waiting on.

Now here’s the problem, once you’ve dragged that over there and then out of sight out of mind, then you don’t look at it again. So that has to be another list that you look at regularly along with all the other actions that you have commitments about, but it’s kind of dangerous, simply because it gets it out of your face.

And again, if you never let your e-mail get more than about a screenful – you’re fine. Oftentimes I’ve got a screenful and I just leave it there ‘cause I know I’ll get to it sooner than later, but if you have more than a screenful of e-mail you might want to consider something like that as a way to get much more of a handle on it.

If you’ve got a huge volume of backlog of e-mail there’s versions of e-mail bankruptcy. One is control A, control X, and pray. That’s radial but that’s possible.

A lot of people will take stuff and sort it by date and then just create folders, like this was – these are all the June, these are all the July, these are all the August and then they just chip away at them and to clean them up later on.

Last question: Is it possible to implement GTD in a team of people? Yes and no. Can you teach a team to read? No. But you better have literate people to have a functioning team. So can you teach GTD to an enterprise? Not really, but you need people who implement these behaviors to make it a viable and successful enterprise. So it is a personal skill set or ability that you’re talking about here. At the same time, once you start to build in this kind of behavior set and start to build in this vocabulary of outcome and action thinking, it can greatly affect the team, once the team starts to get that as a habit.

And by the way, even just one person who implements this – it affects every single one of their intersections, moves up the food chain. Every single one person that they intersect with, that conversation moves up a little bit because you’re now tracking commitments. They notice that. So we’ve seen just one person start to implement this and it affects their whole environment around them in a very positive way.

Okay, well kind of getting to the close here. Again, you’re gonna walk back into this world and if you want to navigate that world and that’s actually a fun world to be in, if you are not letting it get to you, but not letting it get to you means you’re gonna need a behavior that gets you to a clears head, amidst all of it. And you don’t get there by drinking or meditating. I know – I do both, but that’s not what gives me a clear head. One of them let’s me lead my mind into other spaces and the other one sort of numbs out my mind, which is sometimes fun, but that’s not what gets my head clear. What gets my head clear are these behaviors in terms of what we do.

Now many times, the water, if you have mind like water, many times it may feel like that, which actually is kind of cool and fun as long as you got a good surf board to surf that game. But what’s gonna happen to every good surfer? At some point, what’s gonna happen to this guy? He’s gonna fall off. You are too. I am too. But the good news about a good surfer is you may notice, you probably can’t see it from where you are but there’s a little thing tied around his ankle, let’s call it an ankle tether, tied to the board? Why? ‘Cause when he falls off, it’ll let him get back on again fast. And I’ll suggest that what I’ve been sharing with you today is like not just the surfboard itself but also how to get back on when you fall off. As a matter of fact, if you’re not feeling somewhat out of control or unfocused on a regular basis, you may not be playing a big enough game. Turns out that the people who are oftentimes most hungry for what I just shared are already the most productive, positive, aspirational people. It’s just that their positivity and their aspirations have got them creating a whole lot of stuff that they need to help manage better.

So there’s the game and hopefully what I’ve shared with you would give you at least some inspiration to maybe look into this further or go try this out. It doesn’t hurt.

So hopefully this has been useful to you. I’m delighted to have an opportunity to come to Milan, ‘cause I love your food, I love your wine and your clothes and uh – yes! I love Italy, so … thank you folks.

ANDREW J. MASON: Well we do hope that was a fruitful session for you. One of things that we’re reminded of is how David says that we’re not born practicing these behaviors, but it’s so encouraging knowing that these are all behaviors that anyone can do. If you’re looking for inspiration and have missed any of the previous podcasts, head on over to to catch up. And we’d love it if you leave us a review or rating in I-Tunes.

Well that’s gonna do it for me, but until next time, I’m Andrew J. Mason asking you, now that you’ve listened to this podcast, what’s your next action?

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Episode #29 – David Allen GTD® Keynote in Milan – Part One Wed, 03 May 2017 16:36:35 +0000 In this first installment of a two-part episode, David Allen shares an in-depth, sweeping overview of GTD® to an audience in Milan, Italy.  Learn best practices, as well as what you can expect to have happen in your life once you start applying them.

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ANDREW MASON: You’re listening to Getting Things Done, the official podcast of the David Allen Company, with David Allen giving a GTD Keynote in Milan, Italy.

Welcome everyone to Getting Things Done, GTD for shorthand. My name is Andrew J. Mason, and this podcast is all about helping you on your journey, practicing the art of stress-free productivity.

Today we’re excited to bring you part one of a two part episode in Milan, Italy. David shares an in-depth sweeping overview of what GTD is, some of the best practices, as well as what you can expect to have happen in your life once you start applying it. The complete keynote audio is over 90 minutes in length, so we’ll be sharing part one in this episode and concluding next time with part two.

And now, without further ado here’s David Allen giving a GTD Keynote in Milan, Italy.

DAVID ALLEN: Bon giorno. I’m delighted to be here.

I’m gonna share some information with you that basically I developed or uncovered over the last 30 – 32 – 33 years. What I’ll be sharing with you will seem a little simple in a way. The methodology that I uncovered is actually quite powerful, but it doesn’t require you to do any behaviors that you’re not already familiar with. This is not like some new foreign language or some new technology. It’s actually quite common sense, and over these years what I discovered was when things really for us, there’s usually a principle that we’re applying and if you understand that principle, you can get more things done with less effort, but most people are not that aware of that these principles are it seems.

Let me give you an example: Have any of you ever felt slightly confused or overwhelmed and you sat down and you made a list and you felt at least a little bit better? Now invariably when people actually get stuff out of their head, they feel more in control, more focused, better about their world. And if you understood what goes on when you do that. Nothing changed in your world out here and yet you felt better about things. If you understood the principle at play there, you’d never keep anything in your head the rest of your life – and I don’t. Maybe that will be evident soon, I don’t know. Not much going on up here, except this: Now I’ll suggest that the head office that most people are using is not an office out here but this. The problem is this is a really crappy office. If you’re keeping something just in your head in terms of things to be reminded of, things you need to be aware of, or even what your priorities are, how things relate to each other and it’s just in here, you will not give it the appropriate attention it deserves. It will either bother you more than it should or you will not give it the strategic attention that it deserves. I’ve never seen an exception to that.

Now the scientists who have studied, particularly in the last 10 or 15 years, the cognitive function – how we think, have discovered that the way the brain developed over many, many, many thousands of years, your brain developed to do something very, very brilliantly so it could survive. You’re using it right now and that is long term history and pattern recognition.

So when you came in this room you said, “Oh lights, people, chairs – there’s a screen”, as opposed to just vibrations of light and sound. So your brain is actually brilliant in the present at seeing patterns and making sense out of it. And yet, you go to store to buy lemons and you come back with six things and no lemons, or you forget where you left your keys. Your brain does not do that very well. As a matter of fact, guess how many things your head can hang onto and function appropriately with that information based on new scientific information? Four things: oh, there’s a tiger over there; there’s a storm coming; I need to build a fire; the baby’s crying. That’s about it. As soon as you add any more than that, you will lose perspective on the whole game. They used to think that short term memory could handle seven things, plus or minute two from a study done in 1959. Now it’s four, but it doesn’t do this very well. So there’s a basic principle here that if you want to get stuff done with less effort, more elegance, you need to understand that your mind is for having ideas but not for hanging onto them. Why does this make such a difference?

Well when you walk back out of here, back out into your world, it’s not gonna show up in a nice pretty package. It’s gonna show up like this. That’s more than four things, by the way. During any ten minute period in your work day, imagine how many things you have to deal with. Marcelo mentioned that all the information stuff that we’re having to deal with, but think about a typical 15 minute period. You get a phone call from an angry client. Your printer just broke. You get a text from your mother. You have a staff person walk in that’s got a new problem you never heard of before. And that’s just in ten minutes. So give yourself eight hours or ten hours of that. At the end of the day how do you feel; on top of your world or buried by it?

Now I will suggest there is a way to surf on top of this world and I take an image from the martial arts. I did get a black belt in karate many years ago and I’m familiar with much of the material that martial artists deal with and there is an image in the martial arts that goes like this: mind like water. What does that mean? Well water does appropriate engagement with its world. Water doesn’t overreact, it doesn’t under-react. It deals exactly with the world as it is.

Now, in the martial arts, at the higher levels oftentimes there are many kinds of meditative kinds of practices, clearing your head. Now there may be a spiritual component to it, but there’s a very practical component to it, because if four people jump you in a dark alley, you do not want to have 2,000 unprocessed e-mails sitting in your head. You need to be clear, no residue, no drag on the system.

So much of this is about how do I keep a very clear head so I can be optimal in my performance. But if you’re taking one meeting into the next psychologically or you’re taking work to home or home to work in your head, that is not mind like water.

Now I will suggest that most people thing, “Ah – if I just had more time I could get to this state.”

Ha, ha. It’s really a good thing that there’s only 24 hours in the day. If you had two more hours, you’d have two more hours of what you’ve got. I suggest it’s not time that you need.

Come on, Leonardo Davinci had 24 hours, Mother Theresa had 24 hours. Johann Sebastian Bach had 24 hours. Now I know Bach didn’t have e-mail, but he had 20 kids – take your pick. And he still got a lot done. You don’t need time but you do need something. What’s that? You need room, you need space.

How much time does it take to have a good idea, by the way? Zero. How much time does it take to be creative? Zero. How much time does it take to be loving and present with your kids or your staff? Zero. Those do not require time. What do they require? Clear space. If you’re distracted, if you’re worrying, if you’ve got your head wrapped around something, it’s very hard to be present. It’s very hard to be innovative; it’s very hard to be strategic. And those are usually the things that people are after.

By the way, what would you do if you had nothing pulling on your mind right now? What would you do if you had clear space in there, how would you use it? I mean, imagine if you had the freedom to just be as creative as want, and I have a lot of people that have implemented this methodology of Getting Things Done, in the creative fields; movie directors, actors; musicians and so forth. And for them, creating this kind of space allows them to be that much more creative.

One of my coaches that works with us with this material is coaching Robert Downey Junior right now. One of my biggest fans, in the U.S. anyway is probably one of the best known radio personalities – a man named Howard Stern. These are folks who just found – wow – there’s a lot more ability to be creative if I can get rid of a lot of that stuff going in my head.

There’s quite a number of people that I’m working with that are using this space to be able to see from a higher perspective on a daily basis, in other words, being more strategic in their decision making and in their thinking, as opposed to be reactive.

And a lot of people would just like to be more present, tucking their kids into bed at night or watching their kids play football instead of being on their I-Phone. What you do with space will be quite individual to you. If you suddenly had more space, you would probably use that differently than the people sitting next to you. They would use it in a different way too. But room is what most people want. Can you get there? Yes you can.

There is an art to managing the flow of life’s work and this is not just a simple tips or tricks and I’ll give you some tips and tricks, but I want to remind you that this is really an art. How do I manage the flow of life as it’s coming at me? And I use work in a very broad sense – anything you want to get done that’s not done yet. And actually you’re all utilizing one of the core principles of Getting Things Done and that is – well let me check this out. Have you ever taken work home or material home from work that you had to bring back the next day? Do not forget this! This is critical stuff, but maybe you needed to review it or edit it but you had to bring it back the next day. Do not forget this! What strategies did you employ to make sure that you would not forget that material in the morning? Did you ever put stuff on your keys? Any of you ever put anything in front of the door? For this you got an advanced university degree? Actually it is quite elegant. Why? Well the night before, some part of you was smart enough and conscious enough to realize that whoever was gonna try to go through the door in the morning may barely be conscious of it all. “What the hell is this? Oh – that’s right. I have to take it with me.” What a class act.

Actually it is and believe it or not, there’s a real key principle at work here and that is you need to use your mind and your intelligence appropriately, make really good decisions and then park the results of that in such places that you don’t have to be that smart to do smart things.

I’ll say that again in another way. When you do make good decisions about things and you don’t finish them in that moment, but you park reminders of that in appropriate places, there’s a part of you that does not have to be that smart or intelligent consistently. It’s the really smart people in this room that realize you’re only smart and inspired at random moments. And when you are smart and inspired, capture that and then put place holders so that you don’t have to be that smart and inspired to do smart inspired stuff. And it’s about putting things in front of the door, it’s just the door of your mind, not necessarily the door of your house.

What do you need to be aware of before you walk into the board meeting? What do you need to put in front of the door of your mind when you’re going home with your families in terms of the issues and opportunities your family members are dealing with? What do you need to look at before you start your week? In other words, how do I structure my life so that I put the appropriate information in the right place, so I can see it at the right time, orient myself in space and time and do smart stuff?

Now I know this may sound a little abstract. I will get much more concrete about how you do that, but the key issue and the key challenge and the key opportunity is what needs to be in front of the door of your mind – when? What do you need to see? What do you need to be aware of? What do you need to put your attention on?

Now, I will suggest that getting to that clear space, getting the kind of in control experience that you might want to have can actually be done with five steps. There are five steps or stages that we all go through when you take any situation to get it more under control – to get it more stable. Now when I say control, I’m not talking about controlling your boss or your kids or the weather. I’m talking about having something under control, like your car or a meeting, or your head.

Now these five steps I did not make up. I just identified them. First thing that you need to do, if you want to get something under control is start to recognize what’s not on cruise control, what’s not on automatic pilot. You need to capture or recognize what’s pulling on your attention right now? Then you need to clarify exactly what that stuff means and what you’re gonna do about it, if anything, what you then need to organize in terms of some sort of a systematic way to park reminders in appropriate places so that you can step back and review and reflect on the whole Gestalt or the whole scenario so that then when you engage your attention and your activity it’s done from a trusted place.

Have any of you ever had your kitchen out of control? Ever come home and it looks like somebody had attacked your kitchen and yet you have guests coming over in an hour. Oh my gosh! What did you do?

Well, what’s the first thing you did? The first thing you did was notice what’s not right here? You identified stuff that is not where it needs to be, the way it needs to be. That’s the capture step.

Then what did you do about it? Well you said, “Oh that’s a dirty dish, that’s good food, that’s bad food – that’s a space.” You then determined and clarified what the contents were of these things that were not necessarily in the right place the way they need to be.

And then what did you do with them? You put dirty dishes in the dishwasher; you put spices where spices go. In other words, you organized based upon how you clarified what the stuff was.

And then what did you do? Well you stepped back, looked at the whole scene, looked at the time, “Well I got some time, okay here’s what I’m gonna cook.” and then you pulled out butter and melted it. This is how you get your kitchen under control, it’s how you get your company under control, it’s how you get your consciousness under control. There’s just a lot more than a kitchen in your head, but it’s still the same process. And I’ll unpack these in some detail for you to let you know what this would look like. And this is information that comes from literally thousands of hours I have spent desk-side one-on-one with some of the busiest, bright, best people on the planet, actually implementing this process.

So let’s take each one of these steps. First of all, step one would be identifying the things that are pulling on your psyche, identifying things. Do any of you have anything on your mind, by the way, besides listening to me? Yeah, most people would say, “Yo – yes! I’ve got stuff, other things on my mind.”

Well let me find out. How many of you, even since I’ve been talking, how many of you have had your mind go somewhere that has nothing to do with what you’ve been talking about? Anybody had your mind go somewhere? Now, that’s not right or wrong. By the way, if where your mind went was doing creative developmental thinking down tracks your brain has never been before that was adding value to what you were thinking about, I’d say, “Hey dude – stay there!” Great place for your mind to be, but I’ll bet that’s not where most of you went when your mind left. When your mind left, it probably went to something that you still haven’t finished thinking about or haven’t made a decision about or you haven’t parked the results in a trusted place. That’s why things are on your mind. So, the first thing to do is start to identify what are those things that have your attention?

Now I’m gonna invite you to take two minutes, in a minute, and empty your mind. So hopefully you have a pen and paper somewhere and this is an exercise we refer to as a mind-sweep, that is let’s just clear out what’s in there. Now you don’t need to share what you write down with anybody, so be honest with yourself and the trick here is not to make a commitment about any of these things, but simply to recognize what’s on my mind, little things, big things, personal things, professional things. It doesn’t matter. So this might look like: I need cat food, or I need to call the doctor. I need a life. I need a new printer. I need to research a new mobile phone app – whatever it is. I need to hire an assistant. I need tires on my car. The next holiday coming up – so write fast, somewhere and see how many things you can grab that are actually on your mind, real things. Take two minutes and do that.


Okay, how many of you came up with at least four or five things; anybody? How many of you have a sense there’s a lot more sitting in there? Once you leave here, what might you do differently? I would highly recommend, if you have not done something like this lately that you complete that mind-sweep for yourself. Guess how long that usually takes? When we sit one-on-one with mid to senior level professionals, guess how long it takes just to identify the stuff that’s on their mind; not to do anything with it, not to organize it, not to prioritize it, nothing – just to identify it? Typically it takes one to six hours.

I had it take 16 hours for a guy one time. Finally, I just told him, “Well you get the idea. Ha, ha.” He wasn’t stupid. This was the chairman of two companies. But he was, as we say, a crazy-maker. He’d get halfway through something and then suddenly get inspired about something else and leave that go on to the other thing. The problem was he was semi-retired, so now he didn’t have 12 staff following him around and picking up all the balls he’s throwing in the air. He’s just throwing them in the air and running into them. And that is typical.

If you really wanted to do this, it means you also need to walk around and look in all of your closets and storage areas and all the drawers of your desk and all the stuff piled up around you. Anything that doesn’t belong where it is permanently is something in process, something that you probably have some attention about. And just that experience is extremely powerful for most people to do if you haven’t done something like that lately. Highly recommend that.

Now, each one of these stages has its own best practices and its own worst practices. The worst practice on this one is just keep stuff in your head. Again, it is really, really bad office in there. Your head is for having those ideas, but not for hanging onto them. The best practices, of course, is to get it out of your head, capture it, get it out in some trusted place anyway. Quite simply – write it down. There are lots of ways you could capture it, you just need to make sure you capture it in some trusted place. Now, there are a lot of capture tools out there now, but the best one you’ve got right in your hand – pen and paper. Though I’m a pretty high tech guy, I have to tell you that most of the really cool things that I’ve decided to do and come up with, got captured right here – pen and paper; no WIFI required, no batteries needed.

Now that’s not my organization system, that’s simply a capture system and I’m sure many of you walk around with note pads or cards or some sort of thing to capture this stuff, so just make sure you’ve got a good capture tool.

Physical in tray, I use mine more than anybody, because I need a place to be able to just throw mail or throw notes that I’ve taken or receipts or business cards I’ve collected. I just need to gather all that together in one place and not have it spread all over the place.

So the low tech I would suggest is usually the most effective way to capture things. Now you can capture in the high tech functions too. I have a little app on my I-Phone where I can just punch a button, talk to it and it automatically sends that to my e-mail so it doesn’t get lost in the phone, which is kind of neat. It’s called Braintoss, if you’re interested. The problem with the computing world is that it’s so wonderfully new every day and the apps that they give you, it is very easy for all of the high tech stuff to become a serious black hole that you’ve got stuff in there but forgot where it went. All of that can work, recording things, writing things down, that can all work, as long as you work them.

Now, once you collected all this stuff, you can’t just leave it there. If you did, you’ll become one of those compulsive list makers and you’ll have lists all over God and creation, everywhere. That’s not gonna help either because the stuff will crawl back up into your head, if you’re not appropriately then dealing with what these things are you’ve captured. So even though I throw stuff into the in-tray, I need to get that in-tray empty every 24 to 48 hours.

By the way, a lot of things are being captured for you right now. Things are landing in your e-mail as I’m speaking. Things are landing in your social media as I’m speaking. If you’re still using voice mail, you’re getting those kinds of things or answering machines. Those are all collecting things for you into sort of the in-tray areas where those things are. But if you let them just lie there, then that’s not gonna help either, oftentimes that just creates more pressure. So you need to move it to the next two stages.

The next two stages are really, really critical in terms of your thinking process and in terms of getting clarity. ‘Cause the next thing you need to do is you need to clarify what those things are that you just wrote down. So I’ll be inviting you to keep in front of you the list you just made and you’re gonna need to decide what exactly did I just write down and what exactly does that mean to me?

Now there’s a fairly simple algorithm or formula that you will apply and for this, I need you just to focus on one or two things on your list, because, by the way, if I were coaching you one-on-one, you would not have been making a list as such. Each one of those items that you wrote down, I would have you write on a separate piece of paper and then those would all be piled up into your in-basket. Again, that might take somewhere between one to six hours just to gather that inventory of stuff and then the rest of two days, which is usually what our coaching implementation requires. The rest of those two days would be spent going through each one of those items and putting it through this following drill.

The first question I would ask you about anything you wrote down or anything in your in-baskets is what is it? Now I know that seems like a silly question but have any of you ever received a big e-mail from let’s say Human Resources with six attachments and you’ve been cc’ed on this about the policies of the protocols and the conference coming up and the registration and the forms. You ever had the tendency to put that back in the huh stack? You all know what the huh stacks are? You open it up, you go, “Huh!” and you close it up again. That’s the huh stack. So you need to determine what specifically is this thing in my e-mail? Are they asking me to do something? What is it?

Now, the first key question you really need to make a distinction about, about any of these things that you’ve captured is: Is it something that you are committed to move on? Is it action-able? There are two optional answers to this folks: Yes and no. I know this is really keep but stick with me. Most of you have a bunch of stuff in your life and in your head, you have not made that simple distinction about. Is it something that you are going to move on or not – yes or no?

Now we get a lot of things in our world that would be on the no side. You get three kinds of things actually that there’s no action about. The first one would be just trash or stuff that you don’t need, spam or now that you’ve seen it you don’t need it, so throw it away.

There are some things we get, as a matter of fact, a lot of things we get, especially in e-mail, there’s no action on it, but you need to keep it for the information embedded in it in case you need to refer to it – that’s reference. No action required, but it’s potentially useful information that I might need later on.

And then there’s a third type of thing that has no action on it, and the third type of thing is the things you say, “You know, there’s no action on it now, but there might be later.” Incubate. Maybe you heard about a training program coming up but it’s six weeks away and you have some other pending items so you’re not ready to commit to it yet, until some other things get clarified. That would be on hold. Or things you say, “Well you know I might want to do that, but I don’t have the resources right now to do it, but I don’t want to lose the idea.” What we call someday/maybe.

So there are quite a number of things that have no action and they would fall into those subcategories. Now I imagine most of the things you wrote down, maybe even all of the things you wrote down a few minutes ago on your list would be actionable, because they were top of mind probably for you, but we just need to make that clear. Are you committed to move on whatever you wrote down there? Are you committed to do that or do something about that? And if you say yes, the first thing to ask you, this is gonna show up as a little tiny question or a little tiny text and it ought to be in thousand point type. It is such a critical question to ask and answer and that is: What’s the very next action on this?

I’m gonna suggest that most of you for most of what you wrote down is not yet the next action to take on it. So look at what you wrote and see: What’s the very, very next thing you would need to do to make progress on the first thing you wrote down, or any of them? When I say next action, I mean physical, visible activity. Is it a phone call to make, is it a website to surf, it is a conversation to have with your partner, is it something you need to do at your computer, a document you need to draft? What’s the very, very next thing? If you had nothing else in your life to do but finish whatever you wrote down, number one thing, and you walked out the door, where would I see you go and what would I see you do? Absolutely critical question to ask and answer right on the front end to help clarify what exactly this means to you and to start to create appropriate engagement with it.

Now once you make the next action decision you have some options there, actually there are three options. The first option would simply be to take the action and that’s The Two Minute Rule. And that’s sort of become famous in my methodology. If you get nothing more out of me talking today, then The Two Minute Rule and start to apply it – if you haven’t done that already, it’d be worth putting up with me all day, just for that. The Two Minute Rule simply says, if it would take less than two minutes to finish an action when you think of it, wherever you are, if you’re ever gonna do that action at all, do it right then, because it would actually take you longer to organize it and review it than it would be finish it the first time it’s in your face. In a high e-mail environment, probably 30-40% of your actionable e-mails have a less than two minute action to turn them around, assuming you can type.

Now if it takes longer than two minutes to do whatever the action is, then you need to ask yourself, are you the right person to be taking this action and if not, you need to hand it off. That is it needs to be given to somebody else who’s a more appropriate person to be taking that action. Most of the executives that I work with one-on-one, when I start to coach them, I have to go warn all of their direct reports that laxative is about to hit their boss’s brain and just because they get 62 e-mails that afternoon tasking them to do stuff, is not because the boss just made it up, it’s because the boss is the bottleneck.

Folks things constipate uphill not down – trust me. I have yet to coach an executive and I’ve coached some of the best that didn’t have at least four or five major initiatives that they were hung up about because they hadn’t made the next action decision on it and they were the bottleneck and that’s understandable because the higher up you get, the more complex these things are, if you haven’t noticed yet; any of you yet to discover that as you graduate, it doesn’t get easier? See if all you’re doing is cranking widgets as we say, that’s not hard to figure out how to spend your day, but if you’ve been tasked to implement diversity among 2,000 widget crankers, that’s pretty easy to avoid.

So ask yourself on the things you wrote down a few minutes ago, what’s the very, very next action and I would suggest that you make that decision sooner than later.

Now, if you can’t hand the action off to somebody else and it takes longer than two minutes to do that action, then you need to park a reminder of that action, you need to take, whenever you can take it, appropriately and that will be your inventory of actions that you need to keep track of.

By the way, most of you will have between 120 and 220 next actions of that nature, if you did a complete mind-sweep and completely clarified your commitment to move on things. That’s a typical inventory by the way.

Now there’s one other question that you need to ask and answer to get clarity about whatever it is you wrote down or about anything you’ve collected and that is: Will that one action finish this thing? And if not, you have a project and you need to identify the outcome that you’re committed to do.

By the way, most of you have between 30 and 100 projects right now. That’s a typical inventory given the broad definition that I have of a project. A project being basically anything that one action will not complete that you can finish within the next year. So get tires on your car – that’s a project. Hire the assistant – that’s a project. Handle your next holiday trip – that’s a project. Get your watch fixed – that’s a project. Buy the company – that’s a project. They will look like a wide range of things, but keeping track of that inventory is gonna be absolutely critical to be able to surf on top of your game. What are all those projects that you had?

Anybody have any body projects – projects about your bodies? I’ve got a big one right now: get my eyes fixed. ‘Cause I have mild glaucoma, had cataracts and I have another little weird thing on one of the membranes. So that’s a big project. I’m gonna get all that onto cruise control as we say. Probably take about six months to get all that done. Hey, come on – when you’re 71 you’ll notice things start to fall apart a little bit. So …


Is that because I made it to 71? Ha, ha.

Now most people’s to-do lists – how many of you have something that looks kind of like a to-do list? Anybody got a to-do list out there? Okay, great. Well 99% of every to-do list I’ve ever seen is still an incomplete list of still unclear things and it actually creates as much pressure as it relieves. Why? Because when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at things that you still haven’t finished making the right decisions about. Typical to-do list kinds of things: Mama. Right, well I’m sure you had one. Why did you put it on the list?

Oh, her birthday’s coming up.

Ah – what are you gonna do about mama’s birthday?

I don’t know what I’m gonna do.

Bank. Yeah, there are some – why did you put it on the list?

Well I thought we might want to – might maybe a credit line – huh.

So that’s the problem with what most people have done is they’ve simply captured, not only not captured everything, but even what they captured is still not clear.

By the way, every single thing on any one of your lists right now is either attracting or repulsing you psychologically every time you look at it; there’s no neutral territory folks. You’re either going, “Wow! Okay! Wonder when I can get that done?” or you’re going, “Ah – there’s still thinking and decisions I haven’t made about this. I don’t have the energy to think and decide right now. Stop reminding me I’m overwhelmed.”

Now, which is more attractive to look at? Which one of these lists do you think would be more attractive to see – the one on the left or the one on the right that clarifies what exactly your commitments are and what you’re gonna do about them? Again, this is the result of smart thinking that makes good decisions, parks those things in appropriate places, so you don’t have to be that smart again to do smart stuff, because if you only wrote down one thing, on that list that you made before, then you’ve missed potentially at least one, perhaps two still clarifying contents. You may not have the next action yet and you may not have identified the final project is done when what’s true. So the secret to getting things done – what does done mean? I get to mark it off as complete when what’s true? That’s the project. And what does doing look like and where does it happen – that’s the next action.

And as simple as this may sound or seem to you, this is extremely profound when people actually make those decisions about most of the stuff that they’ve got and most people have not done that yet. I would be very surprised, unless you’ve already implemented my methodology and quite well implemented it, I would be surprised if any of you in here have a complete project list right now, with you. And that’s gonna be an absolutely key inventory for you to review on a weekly basis to stay sane.

The late, great Peter Drucker, and we saw a quote from Peter, and I knew Peter. One of the things he would tell you, “As knowledge workers”, he was really the first person to really popularize that idea of knowledge work. What is knowledge work? You have to think to figure out what to do. You have to think about that e-mail about what to do about it. That’s knowledge work and he would tell every one of us in the room right now, “Your biggest job is defining what your work is.” He didn’t tell you how to do that, but that’s how you do it. He just warned you that that was gonna e the biggest issue you will have is determining exactly what your work is.

So, clarifying your mind-sweep: The worst practice is wait ‘til the pressure forces you to make these decisions. You’re gonna decide what to do about mom and you’re gonna decide what to do about the bank at some point, but when and why – when it first shows up on your radar or when the heat on the situation gets so hot somebody has to make a decision about it.

In your companies by the way, when would you guess the vast majority of action decisions are made, when things first land on somebody’s radar or when the heat on the situation from the customer, the boss or the situation forces people to make that decision.

And if you say, “Well it tends to be that”, I would say, “Welcome to the club.” I’ve done all kinds of seminars and speeches in many of those companies that are supposed to be the best companies to work for and they all say, “Oh my God, you’ve been here.” Most organizations have a major improvement opportunity in terms of clarify, stability and control and focus by simply making these decisions on the front end instead of on the back end. It doesn’t mean that you need to take the action now, but don’t avoid it because you don’t know what it is. The biggest source of procrastination that I’ve seen is people avoiding making a next action decision about something and then they’re thinking there’s too much to do, it’s too complex and they don’t start, but once you get used to deciding the very next action on something, I mean down to the very granular, physical, visible activity, you’ll see that those are not that hard to do.

Have any of you ever been in meetings where the outcome of the meeting was not clarified. “Excuse me, what are we trying to accomplish here, by what time?” If that information is not clear, I wouldn’t even go to the meeting because you will not know how to frame the conversation or the thinking. And many meetings that talk about all kinds of things and have visions and ideas and so forth, but any of you ever walk out of those meetings with this vague sense that something probably ought to happen because of that meeting? You just hope it’s not you. Because what question do people tend to avoid asking, especially in collaborative companies? “Excuse me Jose, is this mine or yours to take the action on this?” And that question is often avoided because people say, “Hmm, no – no we’re a team.” Right, at some point you’ll find out who had the next action on what you talked about and not in a highly collaborative way.

Real collaboration says, “God we’re all up to here. Can we decide where the locus of focus is and who’s got the ball on this right now, so we all don’t have to feel that pressure?” No kidding. We have seen whole cultures change, corporate cultures, divisions, departments, change their culture simply by buying into these two questions a lot more: What are we trying to accomplish, what’s the next action? What are we trying to accomplish, what’s the next action? If that becomes part of your corporate or business vocabulary, it’s gonna make a big difference, if it’s not there already.

Okay, well let’s suppose you’ve captured everything and clarified everything, then you need to park reminders where they need to go. Any of you feel like just tearing up the notes you just took – throwing them away? Probably not. Why not? “I need to keep reminders for myself of the work I have defined.” That’s right. Where are you going to keep them? Probably not on those note pads that you were taking notes.

So now, the third stage is to move to creating categories that you park this information in that work appropriately for you. Quite simply, organize means put stuff where it goes. You know, it’s a simple definition but organization simply says: once I determine what something means I put that where those things go. In your kitchen, where do spices go? Where spices go. Where do dirty dishes go? Where they go. Where does a list of your projects go? Where does reminders about phone calls you need to make go? Where do reminders about things you need to buy at the hardware store go? Where do you park things to talk to people about when you’re in next meeting with them?

For the most part, once people start to catch this process and this methodology, all you really need are lists. So any kind of a list manager can work well to keep track of these things and it doesn’t have to be that complex an event. As a matter of fact, you can have a pretty simple system that you can then park reminders of these things in appropriate places. For the actionable items on your list or that you determine, you do need one project list, at least one. I have all of my projects all on one list. It’s about 35 or 40 right now; just one list. I don’t need to look at that every hour, every day, but once a week that gives me stability, gives me clarity, make sure that I’m not losing the ball on anything; sometimes more often than that. But one project list for most of you in here would probably be sufficient.

Now some people like to organize different kinds of project lists. If any of you were doing major sales and you are accountable for selling to lots of customers and clients, many times sales people like to keep a separate list of their sales projects, so in case their boss wants to ask them the status of things, they already have that sorted.

I know some people that keep a list of all the projects their boss has given them on a separate list, so they’re not surprised at any point when the boss shows up and they know exactly what are the things that he or she is expecting of you. Some people like to split personal and professional on two separate lists. Any and all of that is fine. There’s no right or wrong way to do that, but making sure that you have both determined the projects and then parked them somewhere that you can review that inventory on a consistent basis is critical.

Then you have actions that you need to take – the next actions you need to take about things and that comes in two flavors. The first kind of action would be actions that need to happen specifically on days or at certain times on certain days and that’s obviously where your calendar comes into play. So if I need to call Bill on Thursday, I didn’t set an appointment but I just need to call him on Thursday, he won’t have the material until Wednesday night but he’s leaving town on Friday. Sometime on Thursday I need to reach Bill – that will go on my calendar, so that when I get to Thursday I see, okay got to call Bill today. That’s the window I have. So appointments, obviously, meetings, but also things that need to happen specifically on that day, not necessarily tied to a time, those all go on calendars.

Now most of the actions you and I have are not calendar actions. They’re actions that you need to take in and around your calendar from the things that you have already committed to in terms of time. All the rest of your actions, calls you need to make, things you need to do at the computer, things you need to buy at the store, things you need to talk to your life partner about – those things just need to be kept somewhere that you get to them as soon as you can get to them and you’re not re-writing lists every day. You should not be re-writing lists every day. You want to just have the inventory. So you could do that just one next action list. The problem with that is most of you have over a hundred of those and if you put all of those on one list, that can feel a little overwhelming and a little bulky to work with. So people, over the years, have found what’s very helpful is to sort those action reminders based upon context and that’s usually based upon the tool required for the action or the location required for the action.

In other words, I have a list of stuff to do at home. I don’t need to see that until I’m at home. I don’t need to bother that with me while I’m on this trip and I’m flying to Moscow tomorrow. So I’ll be gone for a few days, I don’t need to see that stuff. I have the list available to me to add to it as I might have an idea of something I need to do at any point in time, it will go on that list, but I don’t need to review it along with all the other stuff until I’m there.

People often like to create a separate calls lists – calls I need to make. Obviously it’s helpful to keep lists of the meetings and people that you intersect and interact with, especially the more senior of you in here, professionally. You’ll notice, you probably have already noticed that much of your work gets done through interacting with other people. Things you need to talk to your assistant about, things you need to hand off to your direct report. That’s then very useful to keep a list for each one of those people and each one of those meetings because many times the next action on something is something that you need to bring up as an agenda item in the staff meeting. Or the next action on something is something you need to talk to your wife or your husband about the next time you’re talking about business of life stuff. So nice to then sort those things in ways that make sense to you and people often then customize the system.

If you read my book Getting Things Done, you’ll see in there a number of suggestions that we found over the years that people have found to make that a little more useful. Sometimes your system needs to be a little more complex to make things simpler. That happens to be a cybernetic principle by the way. If you’re trying to manage something very complex with too simple a system, it will make it even more complex. So most people actually are trying to manage a very complex life with simply a calendar and a to-do list – too simple. You don’t need to get it much more complex to get it much more under control, but you need some – there needs to be some discrete ways to sort this stuff so that it is manageable and you need to keep track of stuff you’re waiting on to come back from other people – very important list.

Before I close today, I’m gonna share with you a few of the key behaviors that most executives that we coach walk away with right immediately and one of those is keeping track of stuff that they’ve handed off to staff – a waiting-for list. So again, the more senior in here, you’re gonna use agendas, that is things to talk to your staff about and then you need to keep track of the things that you’ve asked them to do that you care about; hugely beneficial lists, especially for the more senior of you in here. True for actually anybody, but I’ve noticed particularly much of the stress of many of the executives that I work with comes from the fact that they have not kept track of things they’ve asked staff to do and they follow-up when it blows up as opposed to regularly renegotiating that with themselves and other people.

Now the non-actionable things – that’s pretty self-evident; trash goes where trash goes. Many of you probably need to clean up a little bit because simply by the passage of time, certain things become trash. Have you discovered that trash self-generates, it does not self-destruct. Any of you have a drawer at your desk, a center drawer? Everything in that drawer probably belonged there at one point. The problem is that those ballpoint pen refills in there, perfect place for them when you had that pen. Ha, ha. So again, oftentimes you need to regularly clean house for the things that have become irrelevant to you, whether that’s drawers in your desk, trunks of your cars.

Do any of you have one of those mystery electronic drawers? Anybody got one of those drawers that has collected all of those things? Because the appliance died but this charger, I might need that. Right. I’ve got one of those drawers. All that stuff is in there and I usually clean it when I can’t get anything else in there; nothing wrong with that. Again, this idea of putting things where they go based upon what they are – I’m gonna give you a silly little example, but it makes a point.

How many of you in here have a whole bunch of crap you just don’t want to deal with? Anybody got a bunch of just stuff you just don’t want to deal with? You know how you can get clear of that? Get yourself a big box and a big marker and label the box Crap I Don’t Want to Deal With and put it all in there; you walk free! Why? That’s all the crap I don’t want to deal with. Now there is a little bit of an implicit agreement with yourself that you will regularly look through that and make sure that’s okay that you’re not dealing with it. I know that sounds a little silly but that’s actually the truth. If you put stuff where it goes, where those things are, then you get to be clear of it. The problem is, is most people have crap they don’t want to deal with spread all over their life and then it starts to add this pressure to you. So put it all in one place; very helpful.

The second piece is obviously reference material and I have good suggestions about that other than a regular purge, maybe yearly of wherever you’re holding reference information. I have reference information strewn all over my computer. I still have paper based reference files, not nearly as many because of scanning and PDFs these days, there’s still paper based stuff you still are gonna need to capture and I’ve got some suggestions in my book about just how to keep that nice and simple. If you don’t have a good filing system, either in your computer or even a paper based filing system, then things that should be filed aren’t and they start to stack up all around you and then create a gray haze in your offices and your lives, so you need to have a good system for that.

So worst practice: blend all of these categories together. Best practice: make sure you’ve got nice clean edges to this stuff.

I’ll bet most of you in here have at least one pile of your own stuff you’ve gone psychologically numb to and the reason would be because there are different kinds of things in that one pile. Oftentimes, it’s reading material. Some things in there just need to be reference, some things you might still be telling yourself you want to read, some things may be out of date and when those things start to blend together, your mind has to shut it out because it’s too complex to keep rethinking what’s in there.

Now these first three steps of capture, clarify and organize sound simple and you already do all these kinds of behaviors from time to time, but once they’re done completely it can be transformative. A current client I’m working with now, a guy in Chicago, it’s taken us five days to just capture, clarify and organize. Now he’s one of the brightest people, most successful people you would ever meet. He’s a – what they call a unicorn, a billion dollar high tech start-up. Four years ago he had 35 people, he now has 750. Five years ago he was doing 33 million, last year he did a billion. He teaches entrepreneurial at the University of Chicago. He’s on five boards. He’s one of the sharpest, fastest people I’ve met. Now his presenting issue to me was he said, “David I feel like I’m just hitting my stride, but I’m up to here. I have no more room.”

So it’s been quite an education for him to go through this process, the space that it’s been able to give him has been tremendous. Now what you do with this is again what you do with this. And most of you have a system already, but I will suggest you might want to consider some refinements, if this has rung your bell, as we say.

ANDREW J. MASON: Well we do hope you were able to capture any value you’ve gotten from that session and we’ll be returning back next episode for Part Two, the conclusion of this keynote, where David gives the best practices on the reflection stage, horizons of focus and other helpful thoughts as you continue to practice. If you’ve missed any previous podcasts do feel free to catch up at

Well that’s gonna do it for me, but until next time, I’m Andrew J. Mason asking you, now that you’ve listened to this episode, what’s your next action?


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Managing Work on a Vacation Tue, 02 May 2017 17:43:49 +0000 QUESTION: While on vacation, how do you juggle work and play? How much time should you allot each day of your vacation to reading business email, checking up on projects, etc.? What’s the best balance of work and play? When is the best time of the day to spend on work? What organizational tools should you always bring along on your vacation?

DAVID ALLEN: My main purpose for a vacation is to change pace and environment to refresh perspectives and energies. Things that support that are on purpose. Things that don’t, aren’t. I like to think of vacation as re-creation, i.e. an opportunity to shift gears and balance my activity and focus mix (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, relationships, family, etc.) If I’ve been spending a lot of energy thinking, writing, and speaking, then I want to spend some time getting physical–going for walks, exploring, swimming, jogging, etc. If I’ve been engaged in lots of physical work, then I want to read adventure novels, do some creative writing, and just hang out and socialize. Sometimes, when I’ve really been in the turbo fast lane for a while, I just like to do nothing, with a vengeance!

The main thing I want to keep on a vacation is a clear head–lack of distraction. That should be the criterion for how much of what kind of “work” to take with me or to stay connected and current with. If I’m lying on the beach and I keep thinking about what’s in voicemail or email, then I’d better check it so I can tan with a clear head. There’s a fine line, though, between checking in with the office to stay clear, and checking in with the office as an addiction or comfort zone of the pressure and pace of professional engagement. Because most people have some version of that habit, I would suggest erring toward the unplugged side of the equation. But if you must, to keep a clear deck, then of course do them as soon as you can in the day so that all those things can be put to bed early.

Many times we actually can afford to take off for mini-vacations, not constrained to “be in the office”, simply because we have the ability to be in touch from wherever, handling the necessities of our commitments with our clients and companies. Complaining about “having to do work” in those situations is a bit absurd. I have made business calls from my sailboat, so that I could actually go out sailing all day. You do as much as you need to do, to be able to keep doing what you’re doing!

 Some specific suggestions: 

1. The last place in the world to have a thought twice is on vacation. That’s why you should always have at least a low-tech “capture” kind of tool with you, even in the most remote places, doing the most remote things. I have a small wallet for credit cards and driver’s license that also has a tiny notepad and pen. I may not process the note (decide actions and input information) until I’m back in the groove, but the potential value that the thought might add is not lost. I also travel with a file folder or large envelope labeled “IN” for tossing notes, business cards, receipts, etc. for dealing with back at the office. The more senior and sophisticated your professional roles, the more likely your best thoughts about work won’t happen at work! They may happen on the vacation. And invariably people meet others to expand their network, and get new ideas and good information while socializing. And if you’re traveling it’s great to keep track of places to go, things to do, in case you want to go there again. If a key benefit of recreation is to get a fresh perspective, then protect your investment and be ready to take advantage of it’s outputs.

2. It is common sense to do your best before you start a vacation to catch up, clean up, and get proactive and current in all your work-related agreements and commitments, handling all the details in plenty of time. Be sure that you identify “Vacation” as a project as soon as it’s on your radar, and that you continue to define and complete all the action steps as soon as they can be done. Too many people need half their vacation to recover from the last two days before they leave!

3. If you have support and admin staff, give them relevant contact information and clarify what might constitute an “emergency” ahead of time to use it, and allow them to filter all communications.

4. Block out at least a full day or two on your calendar for catching up when you return. It is just shy of stupid to not prepare ahead of time for the invariable accumulated pile of details to adjudicate.

In conclusion, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about being involved with professional things on a vacation. It all depends on the many variables in your situation. But the assumption that work and fun are mutually exclusive is not a healthy one. If you have to have a vacation because your job is too stressful or no fun, you might want to change jobs, career, or your mindset about it all.


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Refresh and reset with the Weekly Review Mon, 01 May 2017 17:42:42 +0000


For more support on this essential GTD practice, check out the Weekly Review audio set.


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Capturing Your Thoughts Mon, 24 Apr 2017 17:19:56 +0000




















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