YAPClassic: David Allen on Mastering the Art of Stress-Free Productivity

YAPClassic: David Allen on Mastering the Art of Stress-Free Productivity

YAPClassic: David Allen on Mastering the Art of Stress-Free Productivity

David Allen has been described as a productivity expert who specializes in curing the psychic pain caused by the pressure of time. He introduced the world to his timeless Getting Things Done methodology in 2001 when he published a book of the same name. Thanks to his ground-breaking work, millions have discovered tools to accomplish more with less stress. In this episode, David breaks down the GTD framework and offers tips to help even the busiest people stay productive and engaged.

David Allen is the creator of the Getting Things Done system and bestselling author of several books, including Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. He is recognized by Forbes as one of the top five executive coaches in the US and included in Business 2.0 magazine’s 2006 list of the “50 Who Matter Now.”


In this episode, Hala and David will discuss:

– What stress-free productivity looks like

– When stress is a good thing

– The ‘external brain’ stress-management tool

– The five steps of his GTD system

– Tips for avoiding distraction

– His approach to organizing tasks

– Why priorities must drive action

– How ‘open loops’ drain your energy

– The two-minute rule for more efficiency

– Tips to stop wasting time and draining energy

– And other topics…


David Allen is a leading expert on organizational and personal productivity. He is the creator of the Getting Things Done methodology and bestselling author of several books, including Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. He is recognized by Forbes as one of the top five executive coaches in the US and included in Business 2.0 magazine’s 2006 list of the “50 Who Matter Now.” David Allen is the founder and chairman of the David Allen Company, providing seminars, coaching, educational resources, and practical products for individuals and organizations. He continues to write about coping with the fast-paced modern world, emphasizing balance, control, and meaningful focus.


Resources Mentioned:

David’s Website: https://gettingthingsdone.com/

David’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/gtdguy

David’s Books:

Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World: https://www.amazon.com/Getting-Things-Done-Teens-Distracting/dp

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity: https://www.amazon.com/Getting-Things-Done-Stress-Free-Productivity-dp-0143126563/dp


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[00:00:00] Hala Taha: Yeah, bam, boy, did we dust this one off of the archives. It's nearly six years old. It's my episode number five with David Allen. Now, for some reason, I've memorized the first 50 episodes of my podcast. And then after that, I couldn't tell you any numbers. The first 50 are really vivid in my mind for some reason.

I think I was just so excited about everything. And I remember David Allen was episode number five. And he was one of the biggest authors I'd had on the show so far. He was one of the names that I leveraged to get bigger people later on. Like, oh, David Allen was on my show. I used to brag about it. And what David taught me in this interview was amazing.

David is one of the leading experts on organizational and personal productivity. He's a best selling author and the creator of the famed Getting Things Done system and Getting Things Done book, which helps you keep track of tasks, projects, and ideas by getting information out of your head and into an external system.

Some of the things that David taught me six years ago, I still use today. And all of my executives were obsessed with this getting things done system. So really think you guys are going to love this one. And it's the app classic. David and I will break down this framework. You'll learn how to stay productive and engaged in the moment, no matter how long your to do list is.

Without further delay, enjoy my classic conversation with the legendary David Allen. 

We're really excited to have you on the show and you are what my generation would call the goat of productivity. Are you familiar with that saying? 

[00:01:48] David Allen: No, I'm not, but I love it. I'm going to steal that. 

[00:01:52] Hala Taha: Yeah, it means you're the greatest of all time. That's what goat stands for. 

[00:01:57] David Allen: Well, I love goat milk. I grew up drinking goat milk because I was allergic to cow's milk when I was a kid, so.

I love goats. They're great. 

[00:02:03] Hala Taha: Perfect. So it's a perfect match. So for our listeners who might be new to you and your system, how would you describe yourself and the expertise in the area of productivity and your contributions to time management and things like that? 

[00:02:15] David Allen: I'm the laziest guy you ever met. And I love having absolutely a clear head with nothing distracting you.

I'm a Mr. Freedom guy. It's like, Hey, don't distract me. Let me just stay focused on whatever I'm going to focus on and not be bothered by anything else. So over these last 36 years. Being 72 right now, I spent a whole lot of the last half of my life trying to figure out how do I stay clear and still have a nice, profitable, fun, highly engaged, professional life and personal life as well, and not have that distract me and still be able to make that a sustainable thing to do.

So I just figured out the best practices about how to do that. And do 

[00:02:50] Hala Taha: you think it's harder to be focused and productive in today's digital world as compared to like 20 or 30 years ago when things were more paper based? Yes. Can you talk about that a little bit? 

[00:03:03] David Allen: Absolutely. Well, come on. It's just, it's a matter of input.

It's the stress of opportunity. I mean, how many things could you or I right now, if we weren't talking, be surfing the web about, be punching in to see the latest Instagram and to see who's following us? The distractibility of today's world is huge. It all comes down to kind of the good news about that is it forces everybody to really decide wait a minute What really matters to you?

So it's almost like the more distractions you have the more important it becomes to figure out. Okay Wait a minute what matters to me right now? And is this how I want to be spending my time if you're in a crisis, you don't have that Because the crisis defines your work for you, defines your world for you.

So as you move into a more unstructured world with lots of opportunities, the ability to be distracted and to run down rabbit trails or rabbit holes that are not necessarily where you ought or want or need to be. Is huge 

[00:03:56] Hala Taha: and I know the outcome of the gdt system is stress free productivity Can you talk about what that means to you?

[00:04:04] David Allen: Actually stress is good You need to stress your puppies when you're raising them You need to stress kids so that they they feel comfortable going up escalators If you didn't have any stress you'd never expand or express or really grow in terms of what you're doing What you don't want is negative stress See, if I want to be out of the room and I'm not out of the room, I've created in a sense a kind of stress or what they call cognitive dissonance.

So now I want to be out of the room, I'm not there, oh my gosh, how do I get there? And that creates the impetus for me to get up, get out of my chair and get out of the room. So that's actually a good thing. That's actually how you produce things. Anytime you have a vision or a goal that is not true yet, you've created essentially a kind of a stress in your life that you start to move toward it in order to relieve that stress.

So that's actually a good thing. The negative stress says, I want to be out of the room. Yeah, but no, I want to sit here, but no, I want to be out of the room, but I want to sit here. Oh my gosh, now I'm in conflict and that's ulcer production. So now I'm in conflict about my stuff and that's the kind of stress you want to get rid of.

The problem is, is most people are keeping their life in their head, which is an absolutely crappy office. And the problem is that when you're keeping track of stuff, you need what might, would, could, should, ought to be doing or handling or dealing with or whatever. You're keeping that in your head. Yeah.

That part of you has no sense of past or future, so it thinks you should be doing all of that all the time, and you can't do that. That's what's creating a lot of the stress, is the fact that people are using the wrong place, the wrong tool to manage the wrong kind of stuff. So that's why a lot of my system has a lot to do with external brain.

In other words, build the external system to get all that stuff out of your head so you can take a look at it and go, No, I'm going to go party, or I want to go do Facebook right now, or I just want to take a nap or have a beer. And making that decision, that's either an avoidance decision, because you're not sure all the other stuff to do when you're in stress, or it's, that's the decision you make because that's the thing to do.

So it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to change your behaviors. It means you're going to feel a lot more comfortable about what you decide to do. 

[00:06:00] Hala Taha: This is a good intro to your getting things done system. Do you want to just talk about what exactly that is? 

[00:06:06] David Allen: Sure. Well, I'll give you the two minute version of it anyway.

Basically, you need to take anything that's got your attention. Wow, my mom's birthday's coming up. Wow, I've got this party I need to handle or deal with. Oh, I've got this test I'm going to take. I mean, this certification that I need to get. Oh, I think I'm going to buy a house. Or should we have a kid? Do I need to get divorced?

Do I need to get married? Yaddy, yaddy, yadda. So, how many things are on people's mind, all of those things actually need to be captured. That's step one. So there's five steps to this. It's capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. So the capture step is to just identify and grab some sort of a placeholder for that outside your head.

Write it down, in other words, or record it or something. But write it down is usually the best way to do that first step. And so let me make a list of all the things I've got my attention on little, big, personal, professional, or whatever that could take you, you know, a good hour just for most people, if not more to just get all that stuff out of their head to begin with.

Step two is to then take those things. Okay, you just wrote down house, you know, what, what is that? Is that something you intend to move on right now or not? So you need to then move to the clarify step, which is okay. What are these things that have my attention? Are they actionable? Yes or no. If not, then they're either reference or, you know, incubate, remind me later, or, or just trash.

Or if they are actionable, what's the very next action I need to take on this? If I had nothing else to do but research buying a house, what would I do next? And so the step two is a really, a very important step. And that just requires thinking you have to take the stuff that has your attention and then get more discreet about what exactly does that mean to you?

Is it actionable? Yes or no? And if it is, what's the next action? And if one action won't finish it, what's your project? And once you've then clarified that, now you have the content to move to stage 3 to organize. Let me, here's the phone calls I need to make. Here are the errands I need to run. Here are the things I need to talk to my life partner about right now.

Here's the stuff I need to buy at the hardware store, you know, so essentially then your organization just becomes how do I then keep track of these things I can't finish the moment I think of them, but I still need to do them. And so I need to keep an inventory of those possible things and options of ways to spend my attention and my actions out there in life and hopefully a trusted system.

If you trust your calendar, for instance, you're not worried about where you need to be two weeks from Wednesday. You just need to trust that you have the right data on there and then you'll look at your calendar at the right time. This is just the expanded way to take that principle and say, okay, apply that to your whole life so that you don't have to be bothered about any of this.

It's just you don't only need to think about your errands when you're going out for them and then see the six things you've already come up with that you need to go pick up. So that's the organization step is having a trusted system that keeps track of these agreements and commitments and feeds them back to you.

As you might want to step four would then be to reflect on the content, you know, if you're going out for errands, look at your list, go to the store, look at your list, if you're going to have a business of life conversation with your life partner, look at your list. So you need to then engage with that.

And then at these higher horizons of things, all the projects you have, and I would suggest most millennials probably have somewhere between 30 and 50 projects. You know, taking a broad definition, get tires on my car, handle the next holiday, you know, man, it's this big party. I want to give if you actually had all that up.

That's a great list to have, but you need to reflect on that on some regular basis. So building in some sort of a review, more an executive time with yourself, reflection and review of all your content. Can catch up, you know, everybody listening to this right now at some point has had a bunch of stuff show up in the last few days that they haven't had time to identify that they've got to do something about it.

And so stopping and reflecting on your life and what are all the things that are showing up in my life, that's stage four. And then take a look at the inventory. Stage five is then engage. Okay. Given all of that, if I look at all my lists, my projects, my errands, my stuff to talk to people about what do I want to do right now?

And then that essentially you're making a trusted choice. Assuming you've done steps one through four, then you're making trusted choices about what to do. If you haven't done steps one through four, you're making a hope choice. I hope this is what I want to do. And you tend to be driven by latest and loudest.

So there's a two minute or three minute version of what getting things done in Methodology is. 

[00:10:25] Hala Taha: Yeah, that was fantastic. You know, it seems so intuitive to do this, and it's just so nice to have it laid out. I'm actually really excited to get started with the GTD system. 

[00:10:35] David Allen: Well, it's interesting. It's how you get control of anything.

If you walk into your kitchen, if you've ever had your cooking area out of control, and you walk in, but you've got guests coming in at night, the first thing you do is you notice what's off. That's the capture section. Okay, wait, wait a minute. What's got my attention about my kitchen or kitchen area right now?

And then step two is what is that? Oh, that's a dirty dish. Oh, that's a clean dish. Oh, that's a spice. Oh, that's good food. Oh, that's bad food. So you make a clarification step about what these things are that are not where they need to be, the way they need to be. And then step three, what do you do? You put spices back where they go.

You put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher. You put the good food back in the fridge. You organize based upon that clarification process. Then what do you do? You step back, you look at the whole kitchen area, you think about what you're going to cook, you look at the time, and then you open the fridge, step five, and engage, you pull out butter and melt it.

So, I didn't make this up, I just identified those stages that we do, but most people haven't really either understood what those discrete activities were, or applied that to the more complex, sophisticated aspects of our lives that we're all living in now. 

 I know that many people organize their professional tasks.

[00:11:50] Hala Taha: They're used to writing project plans and to do lists when it comes to work, but why is it important to both merge our personal and professional actions? 

[00:11:59] David Allen: Well, because your head doesn't make a distinction. You're gonna be as bothered by stuff at home. While you're at work as you can be bothered by stuff at work and while you're at home, but there's no fence inside your head.

You know, a lot of people try to silo themselves. When I leave work, I truly leave work and I don't think about it. Oh, come on, give me a break. Get real, grow up. You know, you wake up at three o'clock in the morning and go, Oh God, I forgot to, or I need to, or whatever. You're still thinking about stuff in that, in that game.

So the whole idea here is, look, just be present about whatever you're doing. So what you don't want to do is be distracted by anything other than what you're doing. So the big key here is getting things done is not so much about getting things done. It's really about being appropriately engaged with all the levels of commitment in your life so you're fully present with whatever you're doing.

Whether that's writing a business plan or cooking spaghetti or watching your kid play soccer or whatever the heck you're doing, you just want to be there for them and not be distracted and have your psyche being pulled in 64 different directions. So that's what this is about. And so you can't really distinguish between personal and professional.

I haven't for 40 years. It's all just, what's next? See, even in my personal life, while I'm playing with my dog, I don't want to be thinking about my stove that needs fixed. I need to already handle that so I can play with my dog and be there, as opposed to having my brain go somewhere else. Even if it's personal about something else personal, I just want to be present with whatever I'm doing.

So I need to be accountable to myself to have captured, clarified, and organized anything, no matter where it shows up, about anything I have any commitment to do or handle or deal with or decide about. 

[00:13:33] Hala Taha: And then I think my next question is on step three, which is to organize. So as we're captured all of this information, how do we categorize these tasks?

Um, so that we can clearly evaluate them and see them clearly. 

[00:13:46] David Allen: Well, you could keep one list of all the things you need to do. Here's what I need to talk to my partner about. Here's what I need to buy at the hardware store. Here's what I need to draft on my computer. You could keep all that on one list.

It's just most people probably have more than 100 of those. And so, that'd be a little daunting and overwhelming if you saw all 100 on one list. You go out, you got your smartphone. Hey, I could make calls, but I've got three phone calls, but they're in this list of 120 things. That's not going to be very functional.

When I'm not at home, I don't need to see my stuff I tell myself I have to be at home to do. So, I have an at home list. There's no need to even see that unless I'm at home, because I can't do them until I'm there. I have a list of things to do for errands. I don't need to see that unless I feel like I have time and want to go out for errands, and then it's nice to pull that list up, so I don't need to see that when I review all the other stuff.

So organizing your action reminders by the context, and oftentimes that's what's the tool or the location required. So people often organize then their actions by here's the stuff I need to do when I'm at the office. Here's the stuff I need to do when I'm at home. Here's the stuff I need to do when I'm out and about for errands.

Here's the stuff I need to do when I'm at my computer. And then it's a very good idea if you're engaged, you know, with other people, which most people are certainly professionally, my assistant, my boss, my partner at work, my life partner. It's good to keep track of stuff. When you come up with what's the next step, many times the next step is something that I need to talk to one of those people about.

So you just keep a list of, you know, Here's all the stuff that I'm keeping track of. I need to talk to my partner about next time I see him or her. And so organizing these by the context that you need to be in, in order to do that action makes this a lot simpler and a lot more functional. 

[00:15:29] Hala Taha: And as we have a list or, you know, however we choose to organize our tasks based on what they are, how do we decide what action we should take next?

[00:15:39] David Allen: Well, why are you on the planet? What's your life purpose? What are you trying to accomplish? What's your vision of wild success five years from now? Where do you want to be? What are the things you need to accomplish over the next year or two in order to be able to make your vision show up? What are all the other things you need to maintain so that you can get there?

Like your finances and your health and your relationships and your spiritual life. What are all the projects you have about any of that in order to move those things forward? And by the way, what are all the action steps that you need to take about all those open loops that might be moving in that? So those are the six horizons you've got commitments.

So if you ask me, what's your priority? I say, well, which one of those horizons do you think you need to review? You know, which thing to do after you get off the phone with me, right now. It's going to be the most important thing to do that will relieve the most pressure, that will move you more forward toward the things that are meaningful to you.

So you can't get away from the complexities of who we are, why we're here, what we need to do. I couldn't get it any simpler than that. You could say, what are your priorities in life? Well, when I get sleepy and I need to take a nap, that's my priority. I don't want to make that some ABC or whatever. And that's just the thing to do right now, given all the other stuff I need to do.

So there's a whole lot of sophistication that actually goes into how comfortable do you feel about the choices you make, but it all has to do with which thing that are options you could do right now are going to give you the highest payoff. And you're the one who's going to have to interpret that. 

[00:17:03] Hala Taha: So you just mentioned open loops, and I think this is a really interesting concept.

It would be great if you could explain that concept to our listeners and why it's important to get these things out of our mind and into an external system. 

[00:17:15] David Allen: Well, as soon as you make a commitment you can't finish in the moment, you've opened a loop. You've created a spin internally inside of you, and that could be as simple as I need cat food to I need a life and anything in between.

You know, so as soon as you make some sort of commitment that something needs to happen or change or be different than it is. You've now opened something that's starting to spin and recognizing what are those spinning things I've got is just recognizing what the open loops are. The problem is that most people don't realize how much of your energy that's taking up without making any progress on progressing about any of these things.

So if you keep this stuff in your head, your head has no sense of past or future. It thinks you should be doing all those all the time psychologically, which you can't do. So again, that's a lot of the source of the stress. You'll wake up at three o'clock in the morning and go, Oh my God, I need cat food, but there's no store open.

You could go buy cat food. So totally unworthy thought to have. All it's going to do is stretch you out, you know, drain your energy. So you want to be able to identify what are these loops that I've opened and keep some reminder of those things and an inventory of those external so that then it clears up your head to do what it does best, which is making choices out of the options, not trying to remember the options.

As you're sitting down and reviewing all of your stuff, thinking about backwards and forwards in terms of your timeframe and your chronologies and your due dates coming toward you and all the commitments you've got at multiple levels in your life. There's no way on God's green earth. You can do that in your head.

And most people feel best about their work a week before they go on a big holiday. And it's actually not about the holiday, they think it is. What it really is, is what you're doing a week before you go on a holiday. Is you're clarifying, cleaning up, renegotiating, organizing, getting everything set up so that you can just be on the beach or on the golf course or skiing down the slope or whatever the heck you're doing.

Without anything on your mind, but you had to do what you needed to do to make sure you were free to do that. 

[00:19:08] Hala Taha: Yeah, that makes sense. And it makes sense because you're able to be more productive Even though you're taking the time on the onset to kind of plan your week At least you know what you're doing and then you can be more productive and be focused all week 

[00:19:21] David Allen: Yeah, and it's not so much plan your week I'm not a big fan of planning anything You don't have to I plan as little as I can get by with but I need to look at the week I need to see what the commitments are that I've got and I need to look at all the other options and then I let myself just make good intuitive choices about what I do.

But I can only do that if I'm doing some version of a weekly review weekly that I can sort of trust my intuitive judgment. See guys, you don't have time to think. You need to have already thought. Your life is going to be too busy, too crazy. You're going to be, the fire hose of life is going to be in your face as soon as you get off the line with me.

Right. And you don't have time to think you need to make sure you've already thought so that you can then trust your intuitive quick in the moment decisions about what you're doing. But most people are doing that just based upon latest and loudest as opposed to wait a minute. You know, I just took a look on what's really coming up and what's really kind of critical and important.

So I think I'm going to park that over here and still work on this other thing right now. And that's the kind of smarts that, you know, that smart people do, but that doesn't happen by itself. It really needs to happen, especially with the complexity of people's lives these days with a, you know, a good review externally of all your commitments.

[00:20:30] Hala Taha: So, changing the way we fundamentally think about how we go about our day to day actions, for some Millennials, it might seem like a daunting or intimidating task, so do you have any advice on how to take baby steps or wean yourself into this system? 

[00:20:45] David Allen: Well, anything helps. This is no running with scissors, guys, come on.

If you just write a few more things down than you have before, you'll feel better. If you just make a next action decision about something you wrote down ahead of time instead of when the thing is in your face. You'll feel better. So anything you do, clean up, just clean the area of your desk that's been piling up over there.

Just go through that and clean it up. You'll feel better. You're more in control and more focused. It's like, you know, hey, go get your car cleaned, clean up the trunk of your car and it'll drive better. So if nothing else, clean a drawer. When in doubt, clean a drawer. Come on. So none of this hurts. You know, any of this stuff is going to help in that way.

If you're talking about getting to a place where you truly have nothing on your mind except whatever you want on your mind, that requires the rigor. Of actually going through this process in some detail. Yeah, write more things down. Decide next actions and outcomes about this stuff. And have a better trusted organization system.

Any of that stuff is going to work. Any of that stuff will help. But come on, we're teaching this to 7, 8, 9 year olds now. So, so don't tell me a millennial can't do this. 

[00:21:52] Hala Taha: No, I think millennials definitely can do this and I'm so excited to get started. I feel like naturally I do this type of stuff anyway, but just getting something with more rigor is, is exciting to 

[00:22:02] David Allen: me.

Well, and the funny, the paradox is the people who need this the least are the people most interested in it. It's the most productive people who are most interested in what I do and what this methodology is. Because they're actually the ones that have thrown themselves out of their own comfort zone because of their own creativity and aspirations and success.

They haven't matured their systems to actually keep up with all that and to support it. So, that's the good news about my life, that the last 35 years of my life I've spent hanging out with some of the best, brightest, and busiest people on the planet. Because they're the ones that have come to us that are attracted to this work.

So, the fact that you are already productive, I'm sure how you already know there is a value to a system, there's already value to having a list, there's already value to doing the right thinking about stuff. So, if you're already in that space, you're ready for taking this to a whole new chapter or a new game.

[00:22:59] Hala Taha: So, when processing information, you recommend to do any action that takes two minutes or less on the spot. And like I mentioned, everything that you say in your book is pretty much intuitive.

Like, I think a lot of us, minute tasks on the spot. But often we do five minute or 10 minute tasks on the spot too, which I think you could run into some trouble doing that. So can you explain that two minute rule? 

[00:23:21] David Allen: Well, most people actually avoid doing two minute things that would only take two minutes because they think it's going to take a lot longer than that.

The two minute rule, I believe me, I've had hundreds of executives that I've coached one on one just tell me just the two minute rule was worth its weight in gold. Just that if they hadn't had that habit already, simply because Oftentimes, the more senior you get and the more sophisticated your life gets, oftentimes, you know, you're just going to avoid making the next action decision.

Well, what's the next step on this? And you can't do the two minute rule unless you actually make a next action decision. So the next action decision is the most important thing to begin with. But once you decide that, hey, the next step I need to do is to email my assistant about X, Y, Z, or the next step on this thing is I need to, uh, email or text my partner.

And get their input on this. So the next step I need to do is just check the website to see if they've got a phone number I could use or whatever. That's the kind of thing that you want to be able to do right then. Cause it would take me longer to stack it, track it, remind yourself of it later on than it would be actually finished right then.

And that's usually surprising to a lot of people, how many two minute things there are actually wherever you live will improve. If you apply the two minute rule, just walk through your apartment or house or wherever you live right now and just notice things that are off. Is that light bulb out? How long would that take you to go get a light bulb and stick it in there?

Oh my God, come on. Had that screw is loose on how long would it take you to go get a screwdriver and fix that? And so if you'd be amazed how many things just right around you, it will improve if you, if you apply that, that principle. And it's simply the efficiency principle. First of all, don't, don't keep track of it in your head because you'll keep being reminded.

I should change that light bulb 65 times today. But once you decide that's all I need to do, and it would take less than two minutes, You don't want to have to write it down because it would take you more time to write it down and look at it again than to finish it right then. So it's just a purely practical, intuitive thing to do.

You should not have any backlog of two minute stuff. It should all be done. And if things are coming at you, and if you need to handle them and it takes less than two minutes to do, if that's part of your job and your commitments and your responsibilities, yes, do it. Absolutely. What are you going to do?

Write it down? Look at it later. When are you going to do it? If somebody comes in that something would take less than two minutes to do, first of all, I may not even let into my office, or I say, hey, could you just send me an email about that? Thank you. And I go back to whatever I'm doing, and then let them give me some input that I can deal with later on.

The problem is a lot of people get inputs, ad hoc inputs, as you're talking about, and because you don't trust your system to keep track of it, they let themselves run down that rabbit hole. And then bitch about it because something interrupted their work, as opposed to writing a note, throwing their own in basket.

I'll get to that later when I've got better time to do it, because I'm right now I'm engaged in something. So there are no interruptions. There's only mismanaged inputs. There's one organization out there that never has fires and crises or interruptions. It's called the fire department. Is that just organized for that?

If they're not dealing with a fire, they're getting ready for the next one. If there's stuff that requires an hour or two of your discretionary time that's uninterrupted, you don't have to get involved in that. Assuming you're zeroing out all that stuff by the end of the day, why should you? See, most people live in sort of the ad hoc, latest and loudest environment out there.

That's why everybody's always checking their smartphones, they're always checking their email. Sometimes I do, just cause nothing else going on, let me look and see what's going on. But if I want to write an article that's going to take me four hours, that's what I do. Cause the rest of the stuff will wait.

If it's an emergency and some lights will flash or somebody will reach me in some way, but I don't need to let myself be distracted by that. 

[00:26:49] Hala Taha: Yeah, it's almost like the two minute rule should apply when you allow it to apply. For example, I work a full time job and I'm in corporate, you know, moving up the corporate ladder.

And when I'm in a meeting with executives, they give me a task. I can't do it right then and there, but you know, you've got to organize and when you have time to do it, you do it. But if I'm sitting on my computer and not needing to do something for an hour straight, then if a two minute task comes my way, then I'll just knock it out.

[00:27:15] David Allen: If you're ever going to do it at all, right? If you're not, delete it. If you are, do it then. 

[00:27:21] Hala Taha: So, like you said, the two minute rule is worth its weight in gold. Do you have any other simple tips or tricks that you can share? 

[00:27:27] David Allen: Just get more stuff out of your head. Write stuff down, folks. You know, keep a pad and pen with you wherever you go.

Because the older you get, the more mature and sophisticated you get. It's not senility, it is sophistication. But the more mature you get, the more good ideas will not happen where you're going to implement that idea. You'll be buying bread at the store thinking of something to bring up at the marketing meeting and you'll be in the marketing meeting remembering you need bread, right?

So if you don't have some sort of a tool to capture that thought as it occurs to you while you're buying bread or while you're in the meeting, you're going to have that thought more than once. Huge waste of time and a suck in your energy. Stop. So if you get nothing else, just keep stuff out of your head and make next action decisions on the things that are actionable.

But that's sort of the core behaviors here. 

[00:28:15] Hala Taha: And what do you think are some common pitfalls that people face when they first start implementing this methodology? 

[00:28:22] David Allen: Well, of the first four steps of the five steps, any one of them, you could fall off. First of all, people don't write everything down. So they don't trust any system because they know they're still banging around their head.

They don't trust their head, nor do they trust their list. So there's problem one. Problem two, even if they write it down, they're sitting there staring at mom or bank on a list and haven't decided what the next action is. So their lists are creating as much stress as they relieve. Problem two, they don't clarify the stuff that they may have their attention on or have even captured.

Step three, they decide that's a phone call to make and they think their head can remind them to do that and then two minutes later they forgot and they don't have a trusted system to park that in. So problem three, they don't organize the appropriate contents of stuff in a trusted place. Step four, they may have captured, clarified, and organized, but they don't look at their list.

So they're still making sort of ad hoc, latest and loudest decision making about their attention and their activities. So any one of those four could be where you fall off this wagon. 

[00:29:21] Hala Taha: And I know you just launched a new book called Getting Things Done for Teens. Can you speak to what that's about? 

[00:29:28] David Allen: Yeah, I mean, for 35 years, I've had people come up to me and say, Oh, my God, I wish I had learned this when I was 12 or Oh, my God, I've got a 12 year old.

I wish he or she could learn this right now because they're getting overwhelmed and swamped. I don't have kids. And I also don't know how to really address that market. So I've avoided this for years. I knew there was a huge demand for it, especially as getting things done in the book sort of took off out there in the world.

But then I ran across two guys. One was my CEO for several years, a public school teacher in Minneapolis. They both had kids and were working a lot with kids and they were doing this work and so we co authored the book And so they did the heavy lifting really of writing this We've already had early returns from parents or teachers that have read this.

Oh my god. I need to learn this myself Because he didn't step down the methodology at all. It's just, how do you apply it? For instance, the capture function, a CEO needs to make sure when they come back from the board meeting, they emptied their briefcase of all the notes they took and the business cards they collected and whatever, and then deal with them and process them.

You know, a 12 year old needs to empty his or her pack at the end of the day or the end of the week. What are all the notes that your teacher needs your parents to sign that you've stuck in some little pocket over there along with the gum? So same principle, just different situation to apply it, but it's the same thing going on.

So the book was kind of a reframe of the Getting Things Done methodology for kids. Part of the context is, are you ready? Are you ready for graduation? Are you ready for the prom? Are you ready for the test? Are you ready for college? Are you ready? As opposed to last minute, oh my God, scrambled, yada, yada, yada.

And see, as kids grow up, at a certain point, you couldn't feed yourself, you had to be fed. You couldn't clean yourself, you had to be cleaned. At a certain point, that's yours. You now deal with that. At a certain point, you had to have help with homework. At a certain point, it's yours. So, over time, you graduated.

As opposed to having the external world structure me, I now have to have my own structure for that. But, kids have not been trained how to do that. And so man, especially when they graduate from high school and step into the firehose of reality, mom is no longer a trusted assistant. Oh my God, how are you going to manage laundry?

How are you going to manage buying your food? How are you going to manage your finances? How are you going to manage that stuff? And there's not been much education about that. So that's what we wanted to get into this book. It's pretty deep, actually. It's quite sophisticated in terms of what's in that book.

It's not an elementary version of it. It's a sophisticated version of getting things done for a younger set. 

[00:32:02] Hala Taha: Yeah, I wish I had that book. Imagine the habits that you would develop as a young person and bringing that into college and your professional career. That, that would be amazing. 

[00:32:11] David Allen: Oh, it's incredible.

You know, now, given that I've been doing this work for decades, I've actually had parents who got onto the GTD process and then had kids, a good friend of mine, who was my CTO, my chief tech guy for many years, raised his five daughters that he homeschooled them. And they, they all grew up with this methodology and they just wrote their own ticket.

They won robotics competitions at age 12. They went to college and then it turns out they wound up being hired to manage their college website. They just say, Oh, why would you ever keep anything in your head? And what are we trying to accomplish? And what's the next action? And they just built this in to their thought process.

So that was always our hope. Look, if we really wanted to change the planet so there are no problems, there are only projects. Let's get the kids first because they can easily be trained. This is the way to think. 

[00:32:59] Hala Taha: Yeah, that's amazing. So all you listeners out there with younger brothers and sisters, make sure you tell them about getting things done for teens, 

[00:33:06] David Allen: just read it for yourselves.

Believe me, if you haven't read getting things done, at least the new edition of it. And taken to it yourself, you're going to find even the Getting Things Done for Teens will work for you at age 30. 

[00:33:18] Hala Taha: Yeah, I think either one is good. Either one is a good start, right? 

[00:33:22] David Allen: Oh, wherever, yeah. 

[00:33:23] Hala Taha: And for those listeners interested in taking the next step with the GTD system, where would you recommend that they learn more?

[00:33:30] David Allen: Well, it kind of depends on what you want to do. Obviously, the Getting Things Done book, which is really, it could be quite daunting because I just wrote the whole manual about all of this that I've learned in 30 years. Though it's an easy read, essentially, you can just pick it up and just scan through it and see what sort of rings your bell about it.

But that's available and that's certainly a way to at least see what this whole blueprint of this methodology really is, and how to implement it if you're interested in it. Our website, gettingthingsdone. com, has lots of resources. Free newsletter you can get into, we do a lot of podcasts. There's a GTD Connect, which is our subscription membership.

Site that has a lot of deep dive into this with lots of folks around the world who are sharing best practices in this and kind of in our club. We've got partners around the world delivering public seminars around this. So if you go to our site and look at our global partners, wherever you are in the world, you'll see we're in 60 countries now, at least officially where we've got licensees and franchisees that we've certified them to do the trainings around this.

So go to the site, you know, surf around, see what might ring your bell. 

[00:34:33] Hala Taha: Yeah, and you're also on Twitter at GTDguy, right? Right. So make sure you go follow him on Twitter as well. David, it was so nice to have you on the show. We really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. 

[00:34:46] David Allen: My pleasure. Thanks 

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