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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GETTING THINGS DONE – KEYNOTE IN MILAN, PART TWO; EPISODE 30
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 GettingThingsDone.com/podcast 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?