Episode #26 – Black Belt GTD

What are your biggest GTD® improvement opportunities? Do you ever fall off the wagon? Join David Allen & Meg Edwards as they discuss what “Black Belt” GTD is, some of its biggest hurdles, and how you can overcome them.


Listen Now

Subscribe or Download

Google Play Music

Podcast Transcript


ANDREW MASON: You’re listening to Getting Things Done, the official podcast of the David Allen Company, with our featured conversation between David Allen and Meg Edwards about the Black Belt GTD .

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

Today we have an incredible episode where David discusses how to overcome the hurdles of achieving black belt mastery of GTD, what stands in the way and what best practices are to overcome.

Now this webinar first showed up on GTD Connect, which is an incredible member’s only destination, where members get access to hours of exclusive content and special resources to take their GTD game to the next level. Now if that interests you, you can check it out by heading over to GettingThingsDone.com/podcast and clicking on GTD Connect. And do hang out until the end of this episode. We have a fantastic coupon code for you to check out as well.

And now, without further ado, here’s our featured conversation between David Allen and Meg Edwards about Black Belt GTD.

DAVID ALLEN: The topic tonight, On the Road to Black Belt. You know this is actually a great topic that we’ll probably be coming back to more and more and over and over because the whole thrust of setting up Connect to begin with was to be a support mechanism for all of us to sort of keep tapped into this energy field that we’ve identified as GTD, which as most of you know is not only a methodology, but also representative of a life style and a kind of way to approach life and work out there, so we surf on top of it instead of feeling buried by it. So talk a little bit about what Black Belt is and what are some of those things that have shown up over all these years. There are some significant common denominators, I think, about what people run into.

Let me also say right from the very beginning that I can’t say I have all the definitive answers about the best way to get past these road blocks. If I had an absolute magic pill that everybody could take that would automatically get you to exercise and automatically to get you to do all those good things we always know that we should do more of, well gee, I’d probably be – I don’t know if I’d be sitting here, maybe I’d be on a sailboat in Tahiti somewhere if I had that magic pill. So the tips and tricks about how do we make it easier for us to get through some of those humps I think is the best we can hope for at this point, though sometimes just knowing that everybody else also has the same issues, so you don’t feel like the lone stranger, could be one of the motivating factors to get going and to keep going and sometimes just to know that we’re all in this together and other people, you know, have broken through that code – sometimes that’s helpful too.

So anyway, what is Black Belt? You know, I think it’s gonna be hard to come up with a final definition of what Black Belt is because certainly from my experience in the martial arts, once I got to First Degree Black Belt (and I never went passed First Degree in Karate in terms of Black Belt) but I – by the time you get to the First Degree, you can see out way beyond there’s Second Degree and there’s Third Degree. So maybe there’s ultimately more and more sophisticated levels of GTD as well as anything else to get to out there. But I think the reference point of Black Belt is one that you know, we own the forum, those of you who participated and thanks to those of you who played with the pole on the forum about what belt you sort of self-assess, and to some degree these were somewhat top of mine as I sat down a while ago and started to generate this and some of our staff and other people have contributed to what these different belt levels might look like. But I think some of those things on the Black Belt bullet points are some pretty good descriptors, meaning there’s no distinction between work and life. It’s all sort of what’s next. You know, your systems are virtual, it’s not like you let anything fall through the crack no matter where you go. You know, and my favorite one is that you really have to look at your calls list to know who to call because basically your system has become your system instead of your psyche and your psyche is truly freed up to be able to range where it wants to go when it wants to go at the appropriate time.

So those are some of the hallmarks of what the Black Belt thing. And also, Black Belt doesn’t mean that you’re always totally in control and relaxed and focused – heavens no. Your life would probably be stale if you could get to some point where you never fell out of it. I think as soon as we insert our creative energy out there, we’re gonna throw ourselves somewhat out of control and lose perspective.

So the idea of Black Belt though is that you know how to get back there and not only that, it’s easy for you to do that.

So the reference point to begin with of what Black Belt or some feeling for that I think is an important piece because if you haven’t tasted what it’s like to, for instance, have everything at zero, to have truly processed everything and to feel like you’re sitting back and on top of it all and there’s really no loose cogs out there, there’s nothing you’ve missed, if you don’t have that reference point yet, that’s probably one of the key factors about the whole Black Belt idea is gee, the more I can reference that place so I know when I’m there and I know probably more importantly when I’m not there. That’s a key element.

So the idea of being Black Belt doesn’t mean that you’re always in whatever that state is, but it does mean that you know how to get there in case you fall off and that you can get there pretty easily.

Now I know people who know how to do it. I mean you could memorize the Getting Things Done book, or go to a seminar and be able to spout back, well here’s the techniques that you need to use, but they haven’t set up the grooves in their life and their system, so that they can trust easily themselves, they know how to get back there in case they fall off.

So those are the key elements is have the reference point about what that place looks, sounds and feels like to sort of be on top of your game, be able to know how to get there, you know what pieces need to be put in place in case you’ve fallen off and you also have your groove set up so it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to be able to get back on that game in case you fall off.

With that said, now let’s take a look at what some of the hindrances are, some of things we run into as we start to implement this, and there’s really order to these things that I’ll be talking about and the key elements here that I think are the things to be aware of in moving there. It could be any one or it could be a combination of them and they, as you’ll see, they all tend to work together.

I think one of the first things to be aware of is just falling away from the basics. I mean the basics of GTD are pretty straightforward and straight ahead. Keep stuff out of your head, make sure you decide next actions and the outcomes that any of them might trigger, specifically projects that need to be captured and that project list is kept complete and that you’re staying fairly regularly clean on a daily basis in terms of incoming, cleaned up the back-log and know how to do that and you’re doing a regular maintenance, something like the weekly review and regularly reviewing and coming back to the well and essentially getting back on track.

Now as simple as those things are, there’s a lot of subtlety to how much you do those, at what level of sophistication, but those things are still pretty straight ahead. So the bumps in the road are whenever you fall off any of those things. And those are fairly common things for people to fall off.

First of all, keeping stuff in your head, that’s one of the biggest habits that we’ve seen over the years of coaching and working with people and ourselves as well. It is so seductive to, when you’re thinking of something, to think that you don’t need to sit down and write it down. And many of you, I’m sure, listening to this have already bumped through that habit and you’re probably writing a lot of things down. You may have some other hindrances that you run into, but that’s really a big one and again, as with many of these bullet points of the things that we run into, if you start having to trust your psyche instead of your system, then the whole thing can be undermined in terms of getting you to that ultimate place where you want to be there. Anything that then causes you to not then let go of your system inside of your head is going to be a bump in the road. So keeping things in your head to begin with – that’s a big one. And oftentimes when people first run into this, that run into this game, they’ll sit down, especially if we coach them and spend a number of hours practicing getting stuff out of their head, and collecting things from all over. But just a few hours of practice, sometimes will not undo many, many years of habit of keeping things in our head.

The good news is, is we’ve got people that have been training their kids where kids just sort of are brought up this way, where they say, “Okay, you just write stuff down.” That becomes expected and assumed behavior as opposed to keeping things in your head. But whether it’s the old macho culture that we’re supposed to use our mind and strengthen our mind and you should be able to keep everything in your head, otherwise there’s something wrong with you, hopefully all that has been switched around consciously by anybody listening to this call, but I think we still have a lot of those old habits. That’s one of the first ones, obviously, that will cause you to slip away, or the bump is to not grab this stuff and get it out of your head so that you can then engage with it objectively, you know, against all the inventory of your commitments.

The second part of falling away from basics is of course, having next actions that aren’t. What I mean by that is many times when we sit down with people and take a look at the system that they set up attempting to implement GTD, people have often set up lists as we would recommend like action lists and the truth is that what’s on there are not actions anymore. They’ve crept back up into small little sub-projects. I think it’s another habit that we have because oftentimes when you’re sitting down and you’re saying, do I actually need to take the time and energy to write “Call Fred” about this? And what I really write is “I need to draft the proposal” or “I need to finish this …” or I need to do this other thing and oftentimes, we just look at a list of next actions and they aren’t really.

In other words, if we took each one of those things off the list and said, “Wait a minute. What’s the very next action on that?” Oftentimes, and I don’t what percentage of that time, but oftentimes the people will then need to rethink their list to get it back to next actions. ‘Cause what happens is if you don’t have very specific next actions on those action lists, when you’re out there in the heat of battle, you know when you jump into the lift and work out there and you don’t have time to finish thinking things through down to the action level, that needs to already be done. And if it’s not done, then it’ll create resistance and avoidance to looking at the list, ‘cause you’ll know subliminally that there are still thinking and decisions to do you haven’t done yet. So that’s another big hurdle out there is changing that habit of making sure that you keep to the discipline of your action lists still be done at the very next action level.

MEG EDWARDS: And David when I see people, when I look at people’s lists, one of the things that I see is that there are a lot of next actions on their lists that really aren’t next action, that really ties into then, them keeping things on their minds, because they don’t want to – they keep it on their mind because they don’t trust their lists because those lists really aren’t as useful as they could be. So there’s such an interconnection between that.


MED EDWARDS: So I find that when I’m coaching people, I had to clean up the lists and make them really actionable again, so that they’ll give themselves the freedom to collect.

DAVID ALLEN: Sure. You know, a side bar on that, which I think is an important one, I haven’t fully developed the thinking – my thinking on it yet, so I’d be curious on anybody else’s input on this too, but I came up with the at least intuitive conclusion that one of the reasons people will tend to fall off and keep stuff back in their head, is a kind of a false addiction – or a false need for a sense of control, that I’m gonna feel out of control if I left this stuff sort of bleed out of my head into some system and I’m trying to hang onto it.

So it’s kind of like you fall off a little bit and then you don’t trust the system and then I need to keep more control and so you keep more in your head. So I think Meg what you said is very true and that people, out of a positive intention say I don’t want to lose this, I feel it’s important, actually will start to, out of habit, suck it back up into their psyche, instead of getting it back out again into the system.

The third aspect of that, of course in terms of falling of the basics is not having a project list complete and not finishing that.

You know, I’ve said in the seminars, we see it all the time, the project lists, that is that list of those things, 30 to 100 things that most of you have, that take more than one step to finish that you need to keep track of until they are finished. That list and that index is very rare to see people who maintain that and keep that current with any level of consistency and that’s a pretty slick one to fall of pretty fast, if you even get there to begin with, which is getting that project complete so that that’s a useful tool to sort of pull you back to the weekly review, which is of course the fourth one, key basics that people will tend to fall off of is not coming back to the well and getting the project list complete with all the new stuff that’s shown up, getting attendant actions caught up and current on all that.

So just a reminder of the habits that we have to keep stuff in our head, not decide next actions, not keep a project list out in front of us, you know, current and objective and not come back and review those things on a regular basis; fairly simple behaviors but real powerful habits to change, so any one of those could be a big bump in the road in terms of getting this stuff implemented.

You know some other things too, obviously the work space. You know, a funny thing and I’ll write this up as an essay too because I think of it as an interesting case study. One of the first things I ever did 25 years ago when I was working with my mentor in this process to begin with. We actually came across the CEO of a small company who didn’t even have a desk. The guy had such sort of a low ego strength that he didn’t want to look like the big boss so he didn’t even have a work space and that was the first thing we did was just stop the presses and go get actually something that could serve as a desk so the guy could have a place to throw his own stuff and to have his in-basket so we could start to gather things.

Now that’s just a dramatic example of all of us need to constantly come back and check and say, “Look is your work space attractive enough? Is it set up so that when you sit down you don’t have unconscious resistance to doing these behaviors, and boy there’s any number of things that can create unconscious resistance of this?

When I say unconscious resistance, what I’m talking about is a lot of the application of GTD has to happen while you’re in the trenches if you will, while you’re in the war zone. This stuff is flying at you and in real time, so in real time what you don’t have time to do is stop and think a lot about your process. Any kind of unconscious resistance, for instance filing systems, people have all kinds of unconscious resistance and that’s why I’ve come up with a little simpler way to do that, so people don’t avoid that process. But there’s just all kinds of things. If you don’t have pen and paper in the right place, if you don’t have an in-basket that’s accessible to you, if you don’t have filing set up so that it’s close at hand, all these things can then start to pile up and mount up on you. So keeping your workspace, not only just logistically clean, but also attractive.

You know, it’s got to be some place that you feel sort of good sitting down at and sort of moves you into you know, self executive mode and if it’s not there, oftentimes that can be a big barrier right in the very beginning to implementing GTD with any kind of fullness.

Good tools, as I mentioned, is a good part of that as well. So good tools accessible where you need them, so the whole habit of writing things down is facilitated tremendously if you got good tools you like to use, so good pens and pieces of paper. Kathryn and I keep junior legal pad at the phone so it’s very easy to write stuff down when it’s coming at you real fast. That’s one of the easier things to try to fix if you will that can unstick sometimes some of the habits, is just making sure you’ve got cool tools around that support the process and probably on the low tech level as much as anything else.

And then a very big, there have been a couple of questions and comments about this one already is the time space issue. I mean you’ve got your work space and then you’ve got time space. One of the biggest things that I think most people have to get that takes a while to really get and to acknowledge is that it takes time and energy to think and get organized and to manage and maintain the inventory of your commitments. It’s not a simple rerouting of your commitments. As many of you know, you have to sit down and figure out what do these notes on this phone call mean? What exactly am I gonna do about it now? And that 30 minutes to 90 minutes a day that it takes most professionals just to stay current with the process of collecting, processing and organizing the stuff coming at them. Very few people have built that into their life, just like you build in time to eat and shower and commute and all that; you build that in. A lot of people still have a big improvement opportunity to build in the acknowledgement of that processing time and I’m not saying that’s easy because you know, there’s always more to do than you can do and to try to be able to carve out your life of the processing time to make it easier, but those of you who’ve been around the block for a while know that if you don’t spend time processing them, the rest of it starts to become hugely inefficient and it becomes harder to stay on this game. So the time space issue is oftentimes another big block that people run into out there; time for daily processing as well as time for once a week to sit down and get this stuff clean and clear again.

All of that then leads to incomplete systems too. And again the incomplete system syndrome will then say, “Well if it’s not complete, my psyche’s my system anyway, so I’m not really getting the pay off.” So again, I think these happen at subliminal levels. You folks wouldn’t be on the phone if you weren’t already invested and sort of acknowledge the fact that yes, it’s a good thing to do is to take time and to work on the process and set that up, but there’s still that little thing, “… yeah, but is it really worth the payoff to sit down and do all this stuff against latest and loudest and the other things that create the bumps in my road out there?”

So the more complete your system is, meaning, the more that you trust that all the stuff is out and in the system the higher the payoff is to it and then it becomes easier to keep it clean because some part of you is more motivated to do it, you’re feeling the value of it. So sometimes this is just a small fine tune to get that little last piece that gets it really complete where you really trust the system. And for some of you this may still be a very big one out there. You’re still using, for the most part, your head to remember who to call, you’re still using your psyche as part of the system.

I would suggest there that everybody think of the reference point of your calendar, your diary. Most of you really trust that you don’t have to be sitting here thinking about next Thursday, what you’re gonna do at 2:30 in the afternoon, because you can trust that your system is really handling it and it’s a trustworthy thing. So your psyche has pretty much given that up – thank goodness. So the whole idea is use that as a reference point for all the other things that in the 95% of your world that doesn’t actually go on your calendar, but still can be tracked in a way, as easily as your calendar can.

Another big issue is just losing sight of the prize, as I call it. Sometimes the motivation to say, well yeah, black belt – maybe other people can do that, but not me and it’s very easy to get back into the grind, if you come back from the seminar or back from a coaching or back from engagement with this and get wrapped up around the axel pretty tight out there and say, “Well, latest and loudest is good enough. It got me to where I’m going.” And again, probably not a real conscious process, but it certainly can be a syndrome people let themselves get back into.

Also, people lose contact with this stuff. That’s one of the reasons and purposes for setting up Connect was simply to give a kind of a safety net out there or a safety rope that anybody could hook onto to stick around it.

I don’t know about you folks, but I need to get around people doing this stuff. I mean, yeah, I know that exercise is a good thing, but if I get in a room with a lot of people actually doing it, or people around me are doing it, sure is a heck of a lot easier to do it and it’s easier for me to then be reminded of the good news about it. But understood that we’re all kind of alone in this together and when we go back into our day to day worlds out there, it’s pretty easy to feel like the Lone Stranger and kind of lose that reference point. So that’s another bump that will happen out there, it’s simply backing away and deflating essentially your inspiration to get the thing complete to begin with.

And speaking of deflation, you know, I’ve got two or three bullets on that whole idea. Oftentimes, we will get deflated because sometimes it just seems like too much to tackle, but in reading the book and when I do seminars, I pretty much give people the whole view of this game and sometimes that can just seem so overwhelming, ‘cause people, I think, subliminally know a) that there’s a bunch of stuff they still haven’t collected, processed and organized out there and b) because they haven’t done it, it can very often feel a lot bigger than it actually is. Ugh – the garage – ugh – my office. It’s just too much and that sense of too much can very often just make it – ‘cause your motivational interview to just deflate.

I know and Meg, you might want to speak to this one, ‘cause it’s one you brought up very recently with me, is oftentimes, the whole idea of just collecting everything just seems to be too big a thing to deal with. Do you want to speak to that for a second? You certainly dealt with that recently with a lot of people.

MEG EDWARDS: I get that a lot in the tele-coaching and even the workbook coaching that I do and people say, “Well if I’m gonna collect everything, I could just be collecting for days and days and days.” And I think that one of the things that I believe in is that just because you collect something that’s on your mind, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do it. And I think that we’ve been so brought up – at least I know I have, if I write it down at the airport, I’m committed to do it.

So giving yourself the freedom just to be able to collect and then once you do a collection, I know that for me, I learned this methodology in ’99 and when I went into my attic, which is the attic over a two car garage was like – just attic was on my someday/maybe list and over the years, everybody laughs at me at the company that every year I go into my attic and I do a little bit more in depth collecting and now I actually can go into the attic and probably just collect about seven things that are on my mind and I’m done with the attic.

So I think that if people can give themselves the permission that they don’t necessarily have to collect every little nitty-gritty thing that’s on their minds, that you can do this in kind of stages, I think sometimes it’s very freeing for people.

DAVID ALLEN: I think that’s a great idea – yeah, and just being aware that it’s just a big chunk out there and you know the vision says get it totally squeaky clean and that’s how cool that’s gonna be, but big hindrance between getting here and there. And you know, someone else wrote in terms of a question that they’ve got collect down, but processing is too overwhelming. In other words, they’re taking all kinds of little notes and the notes – they broke that habit so at least they’re getting the stuff out of their head, but unfortunately the back-up happens at the next stage, which is all those notes are just lying around and those things can look pretty overwhelming to try to tackle and to deal with.

So again it’s that sense of see is there some incremental way to start to get into this, as opposed to having to do the whole thing and I think that may be something that we’ve been – if we say there’s some fault to this, it might be that we keep saying – hey the big prize out there is squeaky clean and yet people really need to acknowledge and we need to acknowledge that sometimes that is such a big chunk and to be able to chunk it down to doable parts and to move forward on that, those will be some of the keys to try and get passed it.

I think every once in a while too, and Meg I’d love your feedback on this one quickly, if you have a chance too is that I think sometimes people feel that the system doesn’t fit them and I know Meg, I’ve learned this from you in terms of a lot of conversations we’ve had lately about people say, well they go to a seminar and this is the way David does it and therefore I need to set up that system to be able to do it that way, and not really realizing that – hey wait a minute, everybody kind of does that somewhat differently. The principles are still the same, but I think people get a lot of value in seeing our other staff and other people who’ve implemented these quite successfully, but with systems that look somewhat different and different kinds of lists that map to different kinds of things.

MEG EDWARDS: Yeah, I think so, because I think people, sometimes – what we give them is recommendations. And so just today when I was coaching people, one person, the @computer in that office was a little blurry and was having kind of a hard time focusing on it and I saw a lot of writing and he does a lot of writing and so we pulled it out and we creating at @writing category, and he goes, “Oh, well this makes a lot more sense now.” Because – where somebody doesn’t need to have the @anyway, or David, because you love the tickler file, a lot of people will set up the tickler file because David has a tickler file and yet they find that they need a different way to set up a tickler file.

So I’m always trying to give people the permission that these general principles of collecting and processing and organizing are all there, but how you organize just so needs to be customized. If there’s a list that you never look at, like an @computer, take a look at it and really ask yourself why is that not as useful as for example your calls, your errands lists. Maybe you need to tweak it out a little bit or maybe you just need to customize it and then you’ll get the clarity of the work that you need to do.

DAVID ALLEN: Yeah, I think that’s key. I mean, if you haven’t heard you know, one of the first initiating events that caused me to even think about different contexts for action lists, that’s a common one that people think, well okay, here’s the ones I have to set up. We’ve given you what the basic contexts tend to be and it is nicer to sort things when you’re at a phone, just to be able to see your phone calls so some of those are somewhat self-evident, but you know, years ago, and this has got to be probably fifteen years ago anyway, when I first began to do this. I was still working with a paper planner at the time and I had two lists of actions because by that time there were actually cell phones, mobile phones, somebody listening to this call may not remember. There was a time when there were not mobile phones, when they just came out they were still these big honker things on your belt, weighed about ten times what they weigh now, but I had one, and of course, early adopter kind of guy. So it made sense to start to split out my calls out of that one list of actions into a calls list. So I had a calls list back then and that made sense because now there was a new context where obviously there were a lot of actions and the calls were the most obvious ones and that’s where a lot of people’s fast moving actions tend to go was on that list.

And then I had a good friend of mine who actually worked out of his sailboat a bunch and he said he got the ah-ha. He said there were a lot of things he only wanted to do when he was on his sailboat. So he said, “David, I got a great idea. I just created an @sailboat list.”

I was like, “Wow! That’s really cool.” It’s self-evident to me now after all these years, but that was a precipitating event, so it’s possible to just maintain one list of all your actions, that’s fine. That’s not to say right or wrong about any of that, it’s just to say this is still in development. It’s taken a lot of years to figure out some of the general principles of these, but sure, a lot of freedom in terms of people customizing it. And I think that may be one of the bumps that people run into fairly commonly is thinking it has to be pristinely one way or the other instead of just – wait a minute! What works for you right now? And keep it going.

MEG EDWARGS: And then when I find that people have customized their lists, one of the things that is still very universal and David you said this at the beginning, and I just want to reiterate it, is when you start these lists one of the ways to know that it’s really the next action is to start with a verb. One of the things that I also see in project lists is I usually see them just being a trigger list and one way to transform a project list into a really functional successful outcome list is either start your project with a project verb or end it with a verb. And I think you’ll get a whole lot of clarity. Because I think one of the things I keep looking at now is that these are focusing lists. And if you look at a list and you glaze over it, it’s not very useful for you. You’re not focusing. So hopefully some of these tips and tricks will help all of you to really look at a list and say, “Ah! Which one of these can I do right now?” And if you can’t do that, then just sit back and kind of reflect and ask why is that repelling you and I think you’ll come up with that answer.

DAVID ALLEN: Thanks Meg.

My final sort of big bullet point here in terms of people stopping on the way to black belt is a little more subtle version of it, and that is, over the years I’ve discovered a lot of people will feel successful about that they’ve implemented GTD, but really only at the runway level and maybe at the project level as well, but I think many times and this is feedback I’ve gotten from people who come back and having been out and implemented this to a large degree and they come back in and they get the ah-ha, called, wait a minute! There’s this whole other level of my 20,000 feet and 30,000 feet and 40,000 feet that I haven’t integrated into my system and you know, obviously we start at the runway in terms of actions and getting people for that because the more mundane your life, the more mundane things you’re trying to manage, the more complex your system really needs to be. You need a much more complex system to manage the 200 moving parts that are action items then you do to keep track of the five things you’re trying to accomplish this year in your business. But that doesn’t mean that the five things you need to accomplish this year in your business should be forgotten or ignored, especially in terms of your system.

So that’s really a lot of I think the sophistication of GTD and where it gets to and really bring that message more to the fore in people’s awareness of what we’re doing, is that it’s still important to make sure that those subtler and bigger open loops are integrated into the system as well. And that’s one of the bumps people run into is they kind of dry up – they know that there’s “bigger priorities” that they probably need to be focused on and that the GTD system has become a very good system for managing the mundane, but hasn’t – they haven’t really connected it to the other bigger things that keep pulling this into the things that motivate us and are connected to things that have more meaning for us in life.

MEG EDWARDS: Well you were talking earlier about it’s really important to have a complete project list and one of the ways that I support people in getting complete project lists is looking at their areas of focus and if they haven’t created their area of focus list, the 20,000 then we will create and then go back and review their project list and every time I’ve done that, they’re like, “Ah, I see a project that I haven’t captured yet.” But that’s the alignment of saying all of these projects are in line to my areas of focus, they’re in line to my goals and my vision and my purpose.

DAVID ALLEN: Right. Well most of our work with people is sort of coming up to 10,000 feet. Let’s identify your 143 action items, now let’s out of that glean the 45 or the 72 projects that are generating those. And it’s a good way to get to them because you can find them more easily sort of in that Easter egg hunt, down in the all the actions. But the truth is, sort of as you just alluded to – the real inspiration is to go the other way and come down and to make sure that you’ve got all the projects you need to fulfill your life purpose, the vision of you and your partner, where you’re going with your strategic plan, the short term and that you’ve looked across the areas of your life that you need to manage and maintain at 20,000 feet: relationships and health and your environment and your fun factor and all the balance part of your life and that from there down you come back down to the project list, that’s truly inspiring when you get that done and it’s not that hard. You know, you just need the time to do it of course.

Those are some of the big bullet points you know in terms of falling away from the basics, stuff in your head, next actions that aren’t, etcetera; getting good work space, getting good time space and habits about that good tools to support the process so you don’t have unconscious resistance to this stuff, getting your system more and more complete as you go so that it’ll start to be attractive to getting stuff out of your head and working the system better. And keep your eye on the prize, if you will, that says, “Hey, wait a minute! There really is that clear space out there and I can get there.” As best you can, trying to chunk it down and give yourself a pat on the back and don’t feel too overwhelmed by this is much bigger than I know how to tackle and at least tackle the best thing around you and the thing that you can tackle most easily and just keep going and chipping away at it, if you will.

And being able to customize your systems to yourself with the freedom to do that, knowing that there’s no really right way to do it, find a way that’s workable to you, that’s attractive to you, that feels better and right to you, so that you’ll be more attracted into it. And not stopping at just the mundane runway side of this game, but being able to tie your system into the things that you know some part of you at least subliminally knows, are really the drivers of your life that add more meaning and juice to it.

Now aside from being reminded of those things that I’m sure most of you are aware of these things already, let me give you a couple of tips.

You know, I talked to somebody just yesterday and it was an interesting conversation because they were recommending this. I said, “You know, when people are trying to learn some new behavior, it’s a real good idea to come up with drills that you can practice, so you don’t feel like this is all right or wrong and this is about the real world. So you go out in batting practice, you don’t bat in real games to practice your batting. You need to go out and take a bat and just hit a bunch of balls.”

I thought that’s – you know, that’s a really great thing to think about and these are just some initial thoughts too of some things that might make all these things a little bit easier. What are the drills we all can do so that these habits of doing and implementing GTD are a little more automatic.

Let me mention some that just came to my mind and there may be certainly more than these, but one is note taking; just practicing writing stuff down. As simple and dumb as that is, just having a piece of paper so when you sit down and do any kind of reflective, any kind of anywhere, just keep a pad with you and feel free to just write dumb, stupid, dorky stuff down, not knowing whether it’s dumb or dorky, but being willing to have it that way and throw it away in case there’s nothing useful on there. I think that’s a good habit and just a good drill for people to practice so there’s no resistance to that initial process to begin with; also just cleaning up anything that’s backlogged. You know, I wrote an essay, I think it’s in my second book, When in Doubt Clean a Drawer. That’s another good thing to practice. Just look around and find a box that you’ve been resisting. You know, when you don’t feel like doing something else and you want a cheap win, just turn around and practice cleaning up something that’s backlogged and it doesn’t have to be everything. Just see if you can find some definable piece and do that, because residue, as I’ve said, self-generates, but doesn’t self-destruct. So it’s always a good idea to be willing to turn around and say, “That’s an easy thing for me to do is turn around and say what needs cleaning up right now?” When in doubt, clean something up. That’s a good habit to get better at and feel more comfortable with.

I think blocking out time for your own process, that’s a big habit. I don’t know how you would do that as a drill other than saying, “Look let me just sit down and say, let me just take ten minutes today just to work on my process – not the stuff that’s in it.” And focusing on process is just a bigger and bigger thing for most people and that’s a lot of what GTD is. How do I work on myself and what kind of time do I need to dedicate to it? So giving yourself practice to say, “Okay, right now I’m just gonna do something that facilitates my process – get a better ink pen.” There could be a number of things that you could do, perhaps on a more consistent basis that way.

And you know, blocking out an hour on Friday – even if you don’t use it. Go ahead and go to your calendar and block it in. That kind of goes against my coaching that says don’t give yourself stuff that you’re gonna unhook from, but sometimes that is a good thing to do. Say, “Look, I’ve dedicated some time and I’ve actually practiced keeping an appointment with myself”, and maybe that’s a good drill to practice. Yes, I’m gonna write something down in my calendar that has nobody else involved and I’m gonna keep that appointment. Maybe it’s a five minute appointment, a ten minute appointment but start to break that code so you’re willing to invest in yourself and follow through on it. Those are good things to do.

ANDREW J. MASON: Some of my favorite advice from that session was Meg’s admonition to start or end your project titles with a verb: “kitchen cleaned” or “finalize kitchen cleaning” gives such a more accurate picture than just the word kitchen on your projects lists. Very helpful stuff for me; I hope for you too. And if you received value from that, be sure to check out GTD Connect, where there are hundreds of other webinars, chats, discussions and resources that’ll help you along the way. Head over to GettingThingsDone.com/podcast and click on GTD Connect. Then use the coupon code podcast on checkout to receive a special discount when you decide to join.

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?

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Meg’s comment on verbs makes absolute sense to me. The dictionary definition of a verb is an action or a state of being. The “next action” is by definition going to contain a verb, so it makes sense to exploit this function. There is also something more manageable and less overwhelming about larger and more complex projects when they are broken down to “doable” actions: arrange, call, organise, find, buy, process, write, research etc.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.