Find Your Exit | David Allen | Boost Your Productivity

 

Join us for another episode of the Exit Rich podcast as our special guest, David Allen, drops golden nuggets on personal and organizational productivity.

One of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity, David’s 40 years of experience as a management consultant and executive coach have earned him the title of personal productivity guru by Fast Company and one of the top 5 executive coaches by Forbes Magazine. His bestselling book, the groundbreaking Getting Things Done, and its methods, commonly known as GTD, spawned a movement with millions of practitioners and fans around the world.

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Boost Your Productivity: Practical Tips For Getting Things Done With David Allen

In this episode, we have a very special guest, David Allen. Let’s talk a little bit about David Allen. He’s one of the World’s Most Influential Thinkers on Productivity. Our audience needs that, David. Many people are busy but they’re not productive. David’s years of experience as a management consultant and executive coach have earned him the title of Personal Productivity Guru by Fast Company and one of the top five executive coaches by Forbes Magazine. Forbes says he’s great. He’s the guru.

His bestselling book, the groundbreaking New York Times bestselling book, is Getting Things Done. Its method is commonly known as GTD. It spawned a movement with millions of practitioners and fans around the world. His methods of staying relaxed and focused on our fast-paced world are being spread by certified trainers all over the world in 90 countries. How many editions are we on Getting Things Done?

The second edition was in 2015.

David Allen, welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure to have you here with us.

Thanks, Michelle. Thanks for the invitation. I’m happy to be here.

I’m glad we finally connected. It’s taken a while. David was born in Louisiana, raised in Texas, lived in California, and is in a beautiful place where everybody should go see the tulips bloom, and that’s Amsterdam. David, I can’t help but ask, what were you like as a little boy?

I was an approval suck. I like to please everybody. As a little boy, I did whatever I needed to do to get people to stop arguing, laugh, and have fun. I couldn’t stand conflict so I was pretty good at figuring out what people liked and how to support that. I memorized the Bugs Bunny record when I was six years old and I would come into the living room and perform it. Everybody would love that. It depends on how little you’re talking about.

My dad died when I was young. My mom has raised me and my older brother. With my proclivity for performing, acting, and expressing myself, she gave me acting lessons in Shreveport at the very new Marjorie Lyons Playhouse, which was built right then in the 1950s. I took these acting lessons and it turns out they gave me a role in The King and I, which was their pilot performance. I was Louis in The King and I.

How old were you then?

I was eleven. I was a pretty trustworthy kid for everybody. My mom let me go do all that spin night, go to cast parties, and things like that as a kid at age eleven. I’m a closet introvert. A lot of actors are introverts. Acting gave me this outlet to be able to express myself. Given what I’ve done in my career, people think I’m a real extroverted person but I’m not. I don’t know what the book is that talked about the value of introverts and how underrated they are because of how powerful they can be. That was a lot of what I did.

I was friends with the teachers. My mom had been a school teacher. I had aunts and uncles who were in the education field. I knew how to please teachers. I made good grades in the first six weeks. From then on, they thought I was smart so I didn’t have to work any harder the rest of the year to keep my grades up. I got into high school and got into the debate team. I was a state champion debater.

That’s good for an introvert.

A lot of my history affected my career and then what I did later on.

You always avoided conflict from an early age. Is that because you grew up in a conflict?

No. I just couldn’t stand it. I’d get sick. I had an aunt and uncle who would argue with each other playing bridge. I would have to almost throw up because I couldn’t stand that conflict.

You’ve grown a global wide network. How have you been able to avoid conflict your entire life?

I married a woman who was good at managing all that.

Is she good at managing conflict for you?

She manages a lot of things that would cause me discomfort if I had to get involved in it. Also, a lot of years of personal growth training. I spent 30 years learning about myself and doing personal growth training. I was in California and Berkeley in ‘68, many times for all that. It took me 30 years of personal growth to realize it’s okay to be able to like approval. I’m fine with that.

Your wife resolved all the conflict for you. Does she vent to you about it?

She’s part of my business so she handles a lot of the back-end stuff that would be uncomfortable for me to get my hands on. I’ve got three women around me who are very strong, powerful personalities who manage a lot of my back office. They do that. I’m not the best player for the play. I’m not a CEO kind of person. I’m more of an educator than anything else and a researcher but it turns out that over the years, I wound up developing some sort of a business so I could keep doing what turned me on and what I thought was useful stuff for people.

You surrender yourself to very strong, powerful women. I always say higher weaknesses focus on your strengths.

You should only do what only you can do.

I couldn’t agree more. Delegate the rest. All entrepreneurs try to have their finger in every pot. Let’s face it. Entrepreneurs are somewhat control freaks. They always have this mentality that if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself. The problem is I try to dabble in legal, accounting, manufacturing, and quality control. They’re not doing any of those tasks very well so the business starts to suffer. You have to focus on your strengths and only do your strengths. I agree with you 1,000%. What is the Getting Things Done methodology?

The GTD Methodology

It’s a set of best practices that I uncovered. I didn’t make them up. I recognized and objectified them. What do you do to get a situation under control? What do you do to make sure that you’re working on the appropriate priorities? How do you manage a situation appropriately? There are three models that I uncovered over all these years that I wrote about in Getting Things Done.

Here are the five phases of how I get things under control. I need to capture stuff that has my attention, clarify exactly what needs to be done about it if anything, organize where the results of that thinking need to go, and reflect the content of my agreements about all that so that when I engage, it’s a trusted engagement, not like, “I hope this is right.” Capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage are the five stages.

Find Your Exit | David Allen | Boost Your Productivity

Boost Your Productivity: The five phases of getting things under control are capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage.

 

The biggest one that most of us leave out is the reflect.

Every one of those.

I would say the most abandoned is probably reflect.

That’s probably one of the biggest needs out there at the executive level of reflection time. Step back, pull up the rear guard, and see, “What is my reality? What’s changed in the last seven days? What do I need to do looking at what’s coming toward me?” You can move out of that victim mode and move much more into the seat of the saddle.

The Six Horizons Of Commitment

People say, “If I do all that, then I wind up with still 200 or 2,000 emails. I still wind up with Slack, Teams, and all kinds of stuff that’s coming at me that I may feel under control about, but which ones are the important ones? What do I need to do about importance? How do I prioritize?” I struggled with that years ago when I started my consulting practice. People were always asking, “How do I prioritize?” I couldn’t get it any simpler than the six horizons of commitments that anybody has or should have.

The top level would be purpose. Michelle, why are you on the planet? How are you doing? That’s the purpose. As well as principles like what matters to you. In a business or a team, what’s the purpose of the team? You wouldn’t have a team if you didn’t have some purpose so what’s the purpose? What are the rules of engagement about how you play together? What are the rules of engagement for your board?

Find Your Exit | David Allen | Boost Your Productivity

Boost Your Productivity: One of the biggest needs at the executive level is reflection time. It’s to step back, pull up the rear guard, and see the current reality.

 

We have purpose, principle, and rules of engagement so far.

Purpose and principles are what I call horizon five. That’s what I call level five. Level four would be, what’s your vision of your purpose being fulfilled successfully? Where do you want to be career-wise, lifestyle-wise 3 to 5 years from now? What’s your vision of that? You could have a very similar purpose to the person sitting next to you but a very different vision of what you think you’re going to be doing if you’re doing that well.

Level four is vision. Wild success would look, sound, or feel like what? Level three would be, what do you need to do? What objectives do you need to accomplish over the next 12 to 24 months that would move you toward that vision? That would be goals or objectives. That’s level three. A typical business that would have annual planning and budgeting would probably be at this level. What are the things you need to maintain so that all that works? Those are the areas of focus and responsibility that you have.

The org chart, for instance, for a company, finance, IT, sales, PR, operations, executive, and administration are not things you finish. Those are things you need to calibrate against to say, “Are all those okay so this engine and enterprise can go where it needs to go?” That’s level two. It’s things you need to maintain and some standards.

Level one would be, what are all the things you need to finish about any of the above? That’s called projects. “I need to get tires on my car. We need to hire a vice president. We need to research whether we want to get a consultant to help us do this merger or acquisition.” Those are projects. It’s things you’ve committed to finish within the next twelve months that have an outcome that you could complete.

How many projects should people in a company take on at one time?

Most mid to senior-level professionals usually have somewhere between 30 to 100 of those. That includes personal like getting tires on my car, getting a babysitter, as well as hiring the vice president to research this new software that we’re looking at. The team or the board would have its projects. Those are usually bigger and not nearly as many but they would still be critical given what the board wants to do or what the senior team wants to accomplish. That’s a team inventory of projects.

From a senior level though, how does somebody manage 30 to 100 projects? I read Gary Keller’s book from Keller Williams, The ONE Thing. To focus on that one thing is going to catapult your business to the next level. How does your methodology differ from that? How can somebody focus on 30 to 100 projects?

Take An Inventory Of What You’re NOT Doing

You can only do one thing at a time. You just need to make sure that you have a clear focus but you better know what you’re not doing before you can feel comfortable about what you’re not doing. If you don’t have an inventory of everything you’re not doing and yet there are commitments that you’ve made internally or organizationally, then you’re not going to be fully present with whatever it is you’re doing.

If you don't have an inventory of everything you're not doing and yet they're commitments that you've made internally or organizationally, then you're not going to be fully present with whatever it is you're doing. Click To Tweet

That’s a very good point. You’ve got to take inventory of what you’re not doing. Most business owners, people in general, don’t do that. They don’t take inventory of what they’re not doing. Remember, I always talk about the ABC list. Your top A priorities are those things only you can do, your core competencies, or your superpowers. Nobody does them better than you. Everything in your B and C bucket, you delegate and focus on your superpowers. I love this, David. You have to get crystal clear on what you’re not going to do.

When I coach executives, they often like to create Projects Delegated. Manage the staff picnic. “Do you care if that happens?” “I do.” “Great. You better keep track of that because you’ve got a commitment to yourself if that happens. You’re not going to do all the activities about it but you better have some process that lets you check in on the status.”

That’s why a lot of your entrepreneurs don’t give these things away because they don’t have a good system for checking what they’ve handed off. That’s a complex thinking process that your senior people have to go through. “I want to do that. I’m not sure when or how.” We call that a Someday Maybe list. You could maybe call that a parking lot. “Let’s revisit that in 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years to see if I still want to do that or might want to do that.”

Delegation

As a CEO though, there are things you should never do like you said before. “Michelle, make sure you get crystal clear on the things you’re not going to do.” You talked about project delegation and then you’re saying, “Delegate those projects out but then have a parking lot for those projects that might not be as urgent or pertinent to grow in your business.”

You’re going to care about a lot of the projects you hand off to other people.

A thousand percent, I always say to inspect.

Where do you keep track of that?

You tell me, David.

It’s called Projects Delegated.

Do you delegate senior executives or team members?

It’s whoever you need to give it to.

How else do you manage 30 to 100 projects from a senior level?

Look at them once a week and say, “How am I doing? How is it going? What might I need to do about any of these to either check status, kick butt, or take them off everybody’s list?”

Get status updates, keep them on a list, and put them in a parking lot. Isn’t it time-consuming to look at 30 to 100 projects every week?

At least once a week. If you’re doing that weekly, you don’t need to spend much time on it. You glance through it and go, “I’ll check on that.”

That’s a senior management or CEO’s task.

That’s a task for everybody in the organization. It’s a task for their executive assistant, every one of the directs, and every new hire. These are universal principles about how you stay in control of the ecosystem.

From the top level, CEO to senior staff, the CEO looks at the most important tasks or projects that are delegated to the senior staff. The senior staff should be overseeing the projects that are delegated to the team.

It cascades all down. If anybody is missing stuff in any of that, that’s where this friction shows up in the system. “Who was handling this? How come this showed up on my plate?” A lot of stuff backs up to the CEO simply because there wasn’t clear accountability for who was responsible for making sure this happened and when.

The Natural Planning Model

What project management system do you use? Do you have some good tools in there that you can recommend?

Yes. It’s called the Natural Planning Model. You can read it in chapter three of my book. It’s how you plan to get dressed, walk anywhere, or eat dinner. “What am I trying to accomplish?” Purpose. “What would success look like?” Vision. You brainstorm all the stuff that might need to be handled or dealt with in terms of dealing with that. You get down to organizing like, “We need to set the time for this. I need to order this thing. I need to do this.” You get some organizational structure out of that thinking. You have the next actions on all the moving parts. It’s the five steps of Natural Planning.

I didn’t make that up. That’s how you got dressed. That’s how you sat down on this show. What are we trying to accomplish? What would success look like? Here are all the things we need to deal with because I heard you’re dealing with your staff about some of those things. How do we organize all that? Is that all in place? Next steps, all and done. Go. That’s the Natural Planning Model because that’s how we naturally plan all the time.

Unfortunately, as soon as you get a little more complex situation, a lot of people don’t do that. They don’t think about what’s the purpose of this project or what wild success would look like. They don’t brainstorm all the relevant data that might need to be integrated, incorporated, or considered. They don’t have some trusted organization system out of all of that stuff. They don’t define real specific next actions that need to happen on the moving parts. Don’t shoot the messenger. That’s the truth.

My head swims when I go back and think about managing 30 to 100 projects. A lot of times, we focus on 3 to 5.

You can’t manage 30 to 100 projects. You can keep track of what they are and then decide whether you need to do something or check something about any of them. You might have handed off 45 of those projects but if you care that they happen, that’s the big issue. You don’t want to wake up at 3:00 in the morning and go, “What’s going on with X, Y, and Z?” How are you going to stop that? The way you could stop that is by making sure you’re reviewing that consistently and doing any follow-up that needs to happen.

Do you have a favorite tool or software program where all these projects go and to whom they’re delegated? It’s easy to review and glance at that software to make sure all those projects are on track. What software is that?

We migrated in 2023 to Microsoft Office 365. I do plain tasks in there and keep track of those. In my tasks, I have different categories of those. I have a waiting list. I have a list of things I need to do with my computer and errands I need to run. I have several lists of the different activities I need to do that are all organized in that. We use OneNote for basic organization data. I stick it in there if I need to find, “What’s my passport number? That’s where that is.”

That’s what I need to start using. There are all these different software like Asana and Slack.

There’s Homeroom.

Also, Monday.

You just need something simple. You don’t need a list manager. Most of those have a lot of bells and whistles. If you’re trying to use something collaborative, you’re running into real issues because you have to have protocols about everybody using it, how they use it, and at what level of detail they need to use it. I have a new book coming out in May 2024 about how you apply all these principles to a team. The title is Team: Getting Things Done With Others.

That’s great. We need to make a big plug for that book, Team. I’m sure you’re going for a New York Times bestseller, although you’ve lost count of how many you’ve had. What was a pivotal moment or a productivity challenge you had to overcome? What led you down this path, building a huge conglomerate and helping businesses worldwide?

I’m not an entrepreneur. I didn’t start trying to say how much money I can make. I was an American intellectual History major in graduate school at Berkley in 1968.

None of that was in the bio. The bio didn’t probably capture most of the things you’ve accomplished in your life.

At some point, I said, “Instead of studying people who are enlightened, let me go find my own.” That was a heady time to do that so I dropped out of graduate school and did all the personal growth stuff. I met all kinds of gurus, got a black belt in the martial arts, and did all kinds of things to figure out who I was. They weren’t paying people to do that. I had to pay the rent. I wound up being a good number-two guy. I had friends in my network who were starting their businesses or had their small businesses. I became a good number-two guy.

I would walk in and say, “What help do you need?” Usually, their systems needed a lot of improvement in how they were doing what they were doing. I’m Mr. Lazy. I’m the laziest guy you ever met. “How little effort can we make this happen? How early can we leave?” I would walk in and look at what their system was. They call that process improvement.

It’s one of my Ps in my 6 Ps.

I would look at what they were doing and then help them figure out better ways to do all of that. I’m a systems thinker in that way. We’d fix it and then I get bored. I go leave and work with another friend. At one point, I realized they’d call that something and they pay them. It’s called a consultant. What a thought. I said, “I wonder if I could create my life by doing project by project and not have to commit this to necessarily joining the company?”

I hung out with my shingle, Allen Associates, in 1982. It was probably before you were born. I’d been so attracted to meditation practice, spiritual practices, spiritual explorations, and martial arts. The clarity of clear space was a cool thing. How do I stay clear so I can stay focused on what I’m doing? The martial art is the key element. As my consulting little practice started to get more successful, my life got busier. I started to screw up the clear space. I said, “Wait a minute. How do I maintain my clear space?”

I began to explore various techniques that allowed me to stay focused on what I was doing and not forget anything. I had a couple of mentors who helped me with all that. What I uncovered for myself was I turned around and started to use it with my consulting clients and it produced the same results for them. More clarity, focus, control, and space to focus on the cool stuff. That became a lot of the core.

We didn’t call it coaching back then but that’s what it was. It was coaching these entrepreneurs and CEOs. Somebody in the big corporate training world saw what I was doing and said, “David, we need that result in our whole culture. Can you design some training around all of this?” I said, “I don’t know. I’ll see.” I wound up creating a pilot program.

It was two and a half-day personal productivity seminar for Lockheed in 1983 and ‘84. We did a pilot program for 1,000 executives and managers. It hit a nerve. It’s been successful. Suddenly, I was thrust into the corporate training world. If you told me that as an American intellectual History major in Berkeley in ‘68, I’d say, “Come on, what are you smoking? Are you kidding?” It turned out that was the righteous audience for what I had uncovered. They were willing to pay me to do something about it. That started in ‘83 and ‘84.

The Secret Sauce

What was that secret sauce that you uncovered?

Capture, clarify, organize, and reflect. That was it. I didn’t have all exactly those words for it but it was that process, training something, how to objectify what I’ve come up with and put it in some sort of a training program so that a lot of people could at least see the map of what this game was. Whether they played it or not was up to them. Fast forward, from then to hundreds of thousands of people I trained, mostly in American and US corporations in their training world.

A lot of my consulting turned into coaching for one-on-one for mid to senior-level folks who went through my seminar or heard about my stuff and said, “David, can you sit next to me deskside and help me implement what you’ve come up with?” I spent thousands of hours one-on-one with some of the busiest, brightest, and best people you’d ever meet in your life.

I’m helping them implement these few simple things, it sounds like. They’re simple things that most people don’t have a habit of doing. At some point, somebody said, “David, you ought to write a book.” Michelle, it took me twenty years to figure out what I’d figured out and that it was unique. Nobody else had done it. It was bulletproof. For anybody who implemented any of these things, it improved their conditions.

This popped into my brain. How hard is it now? Everybody says everything’s already been done, Getting Things Done, The ONE Thing, and The E Myth. How hard is it to come up with revolutionary ideas as you did back in the ‘80s? Like you said, it took you twenty years to realize it was so unique.

I have no idea. I had no plan to do that. I’m not an entrepreneur.

I would beg to differ. I think you are quite the entrepreneur.

What I did was try to figure out and work through what’s a business model that I can do so I can keep doing this work. Once I wrote the book, I thought, “I’m done.” I wrote the manual. I had no idea how successful it was going to be and how much uptake there would be. I said, “I got to get it out of my head and write the manual. In case I get run over by a bus, somebody could at least pick it up and maybe even make use of it.”

When the first edition was published in 2001, I had a woman email me. She was in Philadelphia. She picked up my book at Barnes & Noble. She read it and implemented it. She went, “David, this changed my life.” I went, “This could be scaled,” meaning I don’t have to personally show up. Somehow, I was able to put this into some form so that people could get value out of the form, not just me. That was a big game changer to realize this was potentially scalable. That took a lot of time.

By that time, I had hired several other trainers and some people doing the coaching. We had a small company then and this is back in Ohio, California. The world started knocking on our door because this thing got translated into many languages and the book started to spread around the world. They were knocking on our door saying, “David, how can we do this in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa?” I had no idea how to build a global network. I’ve never done that before. I got advice that this was tough to do but we kept moving forward on it.

People kept coming to us who seemed to have resources that they could use to help us scale this. Learning to scale it was the next twenty years. It is how to do that. It was not a simple formula or process to get there. It was following our nose for what the next thing that seems to have our attention may help us do this. Our mission was to get this methodology out to as many people in the world who might want it. I had no idea quite how to do that but we wound up having resources come to us and we recognized them to help us scale a global network of certified trainers for this methodology and build a business model around that.

How many trainers do you have?

I don’t know how many certified trainers we’ve trained. Probably 35, 40, or 50. What we did was take the responsibility of training master trainers. Once we certified a master trainer in Norway, for instance, Germany, or South Africa, they had the capability to train their trainers within their region because these folks had their businesses. It was up to them to build their network of how they did that.

GTD or Getting Things Done has spread to over 90 countries, each with its own culture and approach to work. I know that very well because it’s how they’re talking. We do acquisitions in other countries as well. Have you noticed any interesting adaptions of your methodologies in different cultures? There are different cultures all around the world. What differences have you noticed in the adaption of your methodology?

None. The methodology is universal. Anybody busy who wants to get things done with less effort is a universal quest or issue. I uncovered or reduced it down to the basics of how you get there and how you make that happen. This is being done in South Africa, Japan, Brazil, Norway, and all over the place. We have some very brilliant folks who have been attracted to do this work. They’re pretty much the spokespeople in their countries.

Anyone who's busy and wants to get things done with less effort has a universal quest issue. I just uncovered or reduced it down to the basics of how you get there. Click To Tweet

Let me ask you this. In a rapid pace of technological advancement and the ever-changing landscape of work, how have GTD methodologies evolved since its inception? Are there any new principles of practice you’ve incorporated or plan to include going forward?

What’s different is the audience. When I read the first edition of the book, Getting Things Done, we knew the targeted audience was fast-track professionals. You’ll see me on the cover with a suit and tie. It was designed for that audience because they were the ones being hit by the tsunami of email, corporate change, and flattened organizations. They were the hungriest essentially for how I stay in control and on top of this game that is increasingly crazy.

The second edition of the book didn’t change the basic principles that I talked about. I changed a little bit of the vocabulary as I discovered a little more subtle teaches to some of the words that I was using. The big change was the audience. I knew this from the beginning. This worked for students, clergy, stay-at-home dads, and anybody who’s had a busy life and wanted to stay more in control of it.

The second edition was a more universal vocabulary and focused on the application of this. The principles are universal. You’re still going to use this when you fly to Jupiter in 2090. You still need to capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. These are universal principles. They don’t change. What changed also with the technology is the speed and volume of what you have to manage. How many in-basket channels do you have, Michelle?

There’s Team, Slack, Evernote, email, SMS, WhatsApp, and all these channels that have been added that everybody thought would make it simpler, but no, it didn’t. All it did was add more input. The technology allowed a lot faster to come at you. Everybody buys software they think that’s going to handle stuff. No, it doesn’t. For many people, the add-on software in their teams or organizations did nothing but complicate things even more. Nobody built protocols or principles about how I manage all the stuff that’s coming across as fast as it’s coming across with the volume that’s coming across.

We are developing our proprietary software AI model to improve efficiencies and productivity. We’ll have a SaaS model as well.

I don’t care how good AI gets. You still have to curate it and make decisions about what it came up with, whether that’s right or not.

You have to have those policies and procedures.

You have to personally know what you need to do to get this stuff under control that you have let into your ecosystem.

We’re doing that because it will help improve efficiencies, aid us, assist us, and help a lot more clients but you’re right. You have to go back to that basis.

We’ve already seen a good AI. What they’re going to do is help you make decisions. They’re not going to make the decision for you.

We’re still going to be making all the decisions.

It’s a decision support.

The Most Rewarding Aspect Of The Journey

It’s going to streamline 1,000%. Niall says, “From the early days of developing GTD, Getting Things Done, to seeing as current global impact, what has been the most rewarding aspect of this journey? Would you do anything differently in hindsight?”

The most rewarding aspect is almost daily, we get feedback from people. This changed my life. This allowed me to do what I wanted to do. It gives me time to do it and create that. A lot of these people are in healthcare and other places that are helping a lot of people. A lot of my focus and mission is to help people who are helping people. If I can help people who have got a great mission out there themselves to assist other people and I can help them do what they’re doing better so they feel better about their work, that’s extremely valuable stuff.

A lot of my focus or mission is to help people who are helping people. If I can help people who have a great mission to assist other people do what they're doing better so they feel better about their work, that's extremely valuable stuff. Click To Tweet

One of my great friends, a huge supporter, and a client has been the head of OBGYN in a Connecticut clinic. She said, “This saves lives. It allows us to make sure that the things that need to happen, I’m in control and have a conscious ability to be able to manage the stuff that shows up when there’s a problem or crisis.”

What’s very effective in a personal life and business teams is universal.

It’s just what’s next. You can call it personal professional if you want but I don’t make that distinction.

30 to 100 projects at one time scares me. I know for my clients and audience, I’m sure it scares them too. It scares the Jesus out of them. A couple more questions I have on that. I keep going back to that because it can be overwhelming.

What’s overwhelming is when you don’t capture it, clarify it, and stick it out in front of your face. It’s going to keep bothering you internally and subliminally.

These projects are not just senior-level projects where we’re like, “We want to implement software and AI. We want to open up twenty locations.” It’s also from the inner team’s work like, “We need to produce this many evaluations a month and sell these many businesses.” Those projects are going down to that team level.

Don’t blame me for your list. That’s not my list. I got my own. You need to decide where you want to track your projects, whether that’s 30, 35, 92, or 63. Who cares? You better define what they are and stick those out in front of you. I never coached an executive who wound up getting a complete project list that didn’t go, “That changes all my priorities for the next two weeks.” I never had an exception.

Hayden asked, “Could you share a story or an example that stands out to you for GTD or Getting Things Done that dramatically changed someone’s life or career?” You gave one story about the lady. Do you have any entrepreneurial stories on here?

Hundreds. I couldn’t bring one to mind. Many people reading this might know who Howard Stern is.

I was on the Howard Stern Show way back when.

Howard was a huge champion of my stuff. We coached him and he hired my coach as his COO. Marci Turk is Howard’s COO. It allowed Howard to keep doing all the stuff he was doing instead of folding tin because he was getting overwhelmed with stuff. I can share that because he was quite public for the last six months after he ran across this stuff.

I met Marci, too. I was on their show. Did you ever connect with Dr. Misner, the Founder of BNI?

No.

The Biggest Bottleneck To Productivity

He grew up the same way you did. He’s in a bunch of different countries too, all over the world. What’s getting in the way of our personal productivity? What do you think the biggest bottleneck is?

People don’t capture, clarify, organize, or reflect. It’s the basics. In any one of those, if it’s a weak suit, you could capture all kinds of stuff. A lot of people are list crazy. They got lists all over the place but they don’t decide what to do about what’s on those lists. They capture but don’t clarify or even if they clarify like, “Here’s what I need to do about that,” they don’t have some trusted external brain to organize the results of that and be reminded of all the errands they need to run when they go out for errands or that the stuff they need to talk to their boss or assistant about next time they meet with him or her.

A lot of people are list-crazy. They list all over the place, but they don't decide what to do about what's on those lists. Click To Tweet

Even if they captured and clarified, then a lot of people don’t have a good trusted organizational system that will remind them of the right stuff at the right time. Even if they did all that, if they don’t look at this stuff regularly, keep it current, they don’t reflect or build the reflection process, they’ll fall off the wagon. They won’t trust their brain and system. It goes back to the latest and loudest in terms of how they’re driven.

How long does it take to master?

People have often asked that. It depends on how much of this you want to implement. If you want to wanted to get this to the point where there’s nothing on your mind, except whatever you’re doing, it’s two years if you’re good. A lot of people haven’t mastered it after ten years because these are huge habits to change, as simple as this all sounds.

How long does it typically take to break an old habit and make a new habit?

It depends on how different the habit is that you’re trying to change.

Also, how disciplined and motivated you are.

A good friend of mine and a huge champion of my stuff, Charles Duhigg, wrote The Power of Habit. You can read that book. That will help.

That’s a good book. Reece asks, “Based upon your extensive experience and insight into productivity trends, what do you project for the future of work? How should individuals and organizations prepare to stay focused despite future changes?” There’s so much going around in the world. What’s your response to this question?

They need to implement these best practice behaviors for both the individuals and the teams involved so that they’re ready to deal with change, volume, surprise, and all those things but you need both individual capabilities to be able to handle that as well as good organizational principles, standards, and structures that allow you to deal with whatever all those changes are.

Find Your Exit | David Allen | Boost Your Productivity

Boost Your Productivity: You need both individual capability and good organizational principles, standards, and structures to deal with whatever change that comes.

 

I have a chapter in our new book called The New Work, where we talk about everything from Deming to Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma, and all that stuff, which helps to manage the efficiency of external workflow. A good friend of mine said, “David, GTD is lean for the brain. How do you make sure that you stay clear inside your head based on all the inputs that you’re getting or allowing yourself to have?” There’s also another chapter on no. How do you say no? I’m sure, Michelle, you have that as part of your coaching. How many things can you not do now?

I’m pretty good at the art of no.

You’re not willing to keep track of all the projects that you’ve committed to.

We typically but we’re looking at the projects a little bit differently. It’s good to get clarity. When I think about the projects, I’m thinking as a CEO, and I own multiple different companies, what are my 3 to 5 to thrive? I have projects within the teams, senior teams, analyst teams, and marketing teams. I do have all those projects. I just think of it a little bit differently but I have a little bit more clarity as that goes.

You’re going to have strategic projects, the ones that if they’re completed, they’re going to move you or the company further or faster.

What I focus on those strategic projects. My senior team focuses on 3 to 5.

It’s all the other stuff that falls through the cracks that then prevents them from being able to be clear about what those strategic projects are and the status of all of that stuff. Also, their personal life.

That’s right because their personal life comes into it. The biggest thing is how to prevent things from falling through the cracks because that happens to all of us. It happens to the best of us but it did not happen to you. You have powerful women supporting you but it does happen in every business. The number one prevention for that is the five levels you’ve been discussing. Let’s get into Team. Tell us a little about the Team and how’s that going to be different than Getting Things Done.

Getting Things Done With Other People

For 40 years, I’ve worked on the Getting Things Done methodology, which primarily has been implemented by individuals to help them stay productive and on top of their world. Once people get this, how can I get everybody around me to get this that would make life and work so much easier? I never had a good model or template to be able to do that. I was too busy going to the next people who wanted to know personally how I do this better and better.

My co-author and I had lunch in Amsterdam years ago. Ed has been doing a lot of Getting Things Done, training and coaching senior team levels more than I had. He said, “Let’s write the book.” We spent the last two years formulating how we define these best practices for teams. When you’re trying to get things done with other people, what are the best things that you need to do? What are the best practices essentially that make those things work?

Find Your Exit | David Allen | Boost Your Productivity

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

He’s got a lot of good examples we put in the book about senior teams that’s got this and then saw how that affected their whole culture when people in their whole culture started to get these methodologies. It’s both by osmosis, mentoring, and modeling what these best practices are and how much difference that made in terms of morale, energy, and effectiveness. The book filled in a gap, which was, how do I share this and get other people around me to engage in these best practices?

It’s not easy. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. We can’t wait to read Team, and that comes out when?

May 21, 2024. Penguin has a targeted date for publication but they could pre-order. It is already on Amazon and some other places if they want it.

Let’s go pre-order. I’m going to have my company pre-order some copies as well. I always look for support when I come out with my books. When I came out with Exit Rich, we did a huge pre-order launch. I came out at the beginning of COVID. Best timing ever but we still made the list. How can people contact you and get in touch with you?

There’s GettingThingsDone.com. In GettingThingsDone.com/YouTube, you’ll see a whole lot of short videos and three TEDx that I’ve done. If people like to see YouTube stuff, there’s a good bit of our stuff there. That’s how they could do it.

Everybody, go out and buy the book Team. If you haven’t bought Getting Things Done, go do that. I have one in my library but I’m going to go buy both of your books. You’ll see. I believe in supporting other authors. I always encourage people to go get Exit Rich, too. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with our audience?

Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them.

Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. Click To Tweet

I love that. That’s brilliant. Many people are like, “I have this bright idea.”

Your brain is a crappy office.

That’s another good one-liner. I love it. Keep them coming. You got a minute left. Give me all your one-liners.

Those are my best.

Everybody, go check out GettingThingsDone.com. Make sure you go to check out his YouTube channel and you go purchase Team, which comes out in May 2024. You’ve been a wonderful guest, David. You share so many golden nuggets with us and words of wisdom. Let me warn you all. You’re going to have to go back and reread this because it’s like drinking through a fire hose. There was a lot of content and information shared.

Go back, take your notes, and implement, which is a key. I always say knowledge is power but implementation is key to success so make sure you implement everything, the five levels that David said. It could take two years to master it but many people have taken longer. What is the secret to success in mastering this within two years or shorter, David?

Just start.

That’s the biggest thing. Nike says, “Just do it.” Sometimes, people get paralyzed when they think, “I’m going to do this,” and then never get started. Thank you so much, David. You’re a wonderful guest. Thank you to our audience for reading. I know you’ve found so much great content here and many golden nuggets. Go share this with your friends. This is for everybody. This is for personal development. This is for entrepreneurs. David said it’s global. He doesn’t want to decipher so go share this with your network. Make sure you get this out to the audience of everyone. Share it in your newsfeeds. Get the message out. Go get David’s book. Until I see you next time on another episode. Make sure you subscribe.

 

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