Jason talks with David Allen who is widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on personal and organizational productivity. His twenty-five-year pioneering research and coaching to corporate managers and CEOs of some of America’s most prestigious corporations and institutions has earned him Forbes’ recognition as one of the top five executive coaches in the world and Business 2.0 magazine’s inclusion in their list of the “50 Who Matter Now.” Visit: http://holisticsurvival.com/category/audio-podcast/.
Fast Company Magazine has also called David “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” in the arena of personal productivity, for his outstanding programs and writing on time and stress management, the power of aligned focus and vision, and his groundbreaking methodologies in management and executive peak performance. He is also the engineer of GTD, the ground-breaking Getting Things Done methodology that has shown millions how to transform a fast-paced, overwhelming, overcommitted life into one that is balanced, integrated, relaxed, and has more successful outcomes. GTD’s broad appeal is based on the fact that it is applicable from the boardroom to the living room to the class room. It is hailed as “life changing” by students, soccer moms, entrepreneurs and corporate executives. A consultant, educator, and popular keynote speaker to such diverse clients as Citigroup, General Mills, Stanford University, New York Life, Microsoft and the US Navy, Mr. Allen continues to enjoy delivering his sold-out Getting Things Done seminars to ever-expanding public audiences in cities throughout the United States, Asia, Europe and South America.
David is the founder and President of the David Allen Company, whose inspirational seminars, coaching, educational materials and practical products present individuals and organizations with a new model for “Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life.” He continues to write articles and essays that address today’s ever-changing issues about living and working in a fast-paced world and attaining a work-life balance. He lives in Ojai, California with his wife Kathryn. David is the international bestselling author of Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity and Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life.
Q: Welcome to the Holistic Survival Show. This is your host Jason Hartman and this is episode number 30. We have a tradition that we do on one of my other shows, called the Creating Wealth Show where every 10th episode we do a non-financial or a non-business topic, but they always seem to related back to business and finance in some way. And I wanted to introduce that tradition here on the Holistic Survival Show as well, because this topic, for show number 30 today, will actually relate quite a bit to modern survivalism. And this appeared as episode number 160 on my Creating Wealth show. If you’re a listener to the Creating Wealth Show, please go ahead and listen to this episode again because I think it’s very important. Occasionally, we will cross-pollinate episodes from one show to another, and we do that because we think that they really are applicable to both shows and both audiences.
So this is from David Allen and David Allen is the author Getting Things Done and several other books and he’s really a productivity expert. So why, you ask, do I think this is important to have on the Holistic Survival Show? Well here’s why: Because survival scenarios probably won’t unfold into total economic collapse. They won’t unfold into massive disaster necessarily all at one time. They will be incremental things where things may become incrementally worse in our society. That would likely be an economic issue. And when they do, it is very, very important that we as modern survivalists, understand how to maintain our productivity. Because if anything demand’s productivity, it is a survival situation, isn’t it? Well, that’s why I wanted you to hear this episode today with David Allen, and again, if it’s not necessarily applicable to your version of survivalism, it’s applicable to everybody’s life most certainly. So we will be right back with a talk on Getting Things Done with David Allen in less than 60 seconds.
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome David Allen to the show today. He is a guru and expert on personal productivity and organization. His latest books is Making It All Work, Winning the Game of Work and the Business of Life. David, welcome.
David Allen: Delighted to be here, Jason.
Jason Hartman: Great to have you. I first discovered you a few years ago, with the book, Getting Things Done, and I know that’s not the latest book, but it seems to be rather foundational and I thought maybe we’d talk about that one first. What do people need to do to be more productive? We’re all distracted today with overly committed lives and we’re all just too busy, and it seems like a lot of times, we’re just going in circles. What’s the key to getting things done?
David Allen: Well, I think if you back it up a little bit and ask yourself when you’ve had a really good day, when you really got things done, you probably would recall that into you, but probably in your zone. The athletes call that in the zone. Time disappears. It’s like, gosh, lunchtime! Where did the morning go? So that state where you’re clear, you’re relaxed, you’re highly focused, you’re inspired, but not like giddy and tee-hee and ha-ha, but inspired meaning you are engaged. You’re just on. When time disappears, I think that’s the most productive state to be in. It’s the most productive state to operate from whether you’re hitting a golf ball off the tee or in a difficult conversation or trying to rethink your life strategies, whatever. It’s like you’re clear. You’re highly focused and you have all of your resources available to you.
Well, if you could stay in that state – and that’s a lot of what my work is about is well, how’d you get into that state, and when you fall off, how do you recognize you fell off, and how do you get back on? So I think what most people need to do is to understand there actually is a definable set of behaviors that allow you to get on top of your game, instead of feel like you’re behind it.
And that’s what I did. I spent a lot of years just uncovering. Not really making it up. It’s not like a foreign language or a technology you don’t understand, but what I did was just really begin to examine very closely what it is we do that works for us in that regard. And I just wound up defining those sets of behaviors and describing essentially a coherent methodology that, when you start to apply it, let’s you get a lot more done with a lot less effort.
Jason Hartman: So you call this kind of a new practice for a new reality. Tell us about that, if you would.
David Allen: Well, what’s different these days is how frequently everything is different. That’s what’s new, is the fact that while we’re talking right now, stuff is piling up in there that’s potentially meaningful, new input that could cause us to have to recalibrate our whole mix of our priorities and our commitments and re-cache the whole game, if you will, and then re-point and refocus. That’s happening many times a day as opposed to once a month for our parents.
So that’s what’s different. Things are coming much too fast to let them lie around without defining what they mean and without having a lot more rigor in terms of keeping track of what all of our commitments are at multiple different levels, and being able to step back and see that whole inventory and keep it current so that you’re making much more objective decisions on an ongoing basis and can reset very fast. That’s what’s really different.
So the flexibility to unhook and redo and refocus is really, really critical these days, and that’s not really being taught. Everybody is kind of in it, but I think what I did was let people know there’s light at the end of that tunnel, but it’s not free. There are certain behaviors you have to do and certain things you have to get good at and better at and much more on the front end about and more rigorous. I don’t want to make it sound hard because it’s stuff that’s actually pretty easy to do, but most people don’t seem to have done it or understood it in a coherent way like I did.
Jason Hartman: Well, things are moving so fast nowadays, and I believe it was Peter Drucker that said the one thing constant is change, so very much to your point. What do people do? What are sort of the fundamentals of getting things done?
David Allen: Well, the real fundamental is all you have to do to get things done is define what done means and what doing looks like and where it happens. It’s just that those don’t show up by themselves. What does “done” mean in terms of Mom and elder care? What does “done” mean right now in terms of “I need to rethink how I need to restructure my business now that the world may be waking up a little bit more out there.” So defining what our outcomes are is not an easy task necessarily.
And then even when you define those and say, okay, what’s the very next step, what’s the next thing I need to do, oh, yeah, making that decision. Those don’t show up already in nice little pink bows and well defined. So we have to train ourselves how to make those somewhat common sense and obvious executive operational decisions. That’s the basic sort of thought process and behavior that’s imbedded in GTD, but how do you do that with the sludge of stuff that we’re engaged with and that we have to deal with on an hour-by-hour basis. Now that’s the challenge and that’s where I came up with the Five Phases of how do you really manage to get that under control and keep it under control, and what are the six different conversations or horizons that we need to evaluate in terms of what our commitments are?
So essentially, I got it as simple as I could, but I couldn’t get it any simpler than that. That’s sort of the detail of how do I manage that thought process and make sure it’s installed out there.
Jason Hartman: Well, take us through those steps, if you would. There are six and five you said?
David Allen: Well, there are five and six. I take it like let’s get control first, so that if your foot is slipping off the rock, you can’t really focus on where you want to climb. You need to get control first. If the ship is sinking, you don’t really care where it’s pointed. So the first thing is how do I get this situation under control, and that could be my email, it could be a client relationship, it could be my office, it could be my country. It could be anything.
And those five stages of how you get control, very simply, I’ll give you the quick bullets. First of all, capture the stuff. Just capture, capture what’s pulling on me; capture what’s not on cruise control. I need to identify that. No. 2 is I then need to clarify or process what those things are. What does that mean? How do I relate to the fact that that email is sitting there and giving me information about X, Y and Z? Is there something I’m committed to do about it or not? Do I need to throw it away? Is it something I need to do later on? And if it’s something I’m committed to move on, what’s the outcome I’m committed to and what’s the action steps I must take?
So essentially, those are the clarifying questions about what emails mean, what my meeting notes mean, what do I now need to do after I get off the phone with this person? That’s clarifying. That’s Stage 2.
Stage 3 says, okay, once you make a decision – oh, I need to call Fred Smith about this – I then need to organize some reminder about that. So Stage 3 is to organize the results of that thinking about your stuff. Stage 4 is to step back and make sure that now that you’ve organized it that you’re reflecting and reviewing the contents that you’ve organized in some appropriate manner, on some appropriate recursion or regularity.
Then Stage 5 says now how do I allocate resources? What do I go do? How do I engage? What do I do next? Is it an email? Do I need to go to sleep? Do I need to have a conversation with my boss? What’s next? What’s the very next allocation of resources?
So essentially, you capture, you clarify, you organize, you reflect, and then you engage. At micro-levels or macro-levels, that’s actually what we all do if things get out of control and we wind up getting them back under control. We did some version of those phases in that order.
So there is a lot of detail on each one of those. I can drill into those in more detail, but then if you say, well, okay, once I’ve done all that, I have a lot more things to do than just one thing. No kidding. And that’s, how do I make priority decisions, or how do I then decide which of those things I need to do right now? And that’s where a critical component for that is the six conversations you really need to have to really feel comfortable about what you’re doing. I put them in altitude, in an altitude analogy because it tends to work that way. I kind of lift up and see higher.
The very highest would be what I call a 50,000-foot level. That’s your ultimate purpose and your core values. What are you about? Why are you on the planet? What’s really important to you? The next level down from that would be, okay, what wild success of you doing that look, sound, or feel like? What are the long-term pictures of success for you? That’s what you could call vision at 40,000 feet. Let’s drop own and make the purpose more operational here; then I have a vision of what that might look like.
But then, of course, you need to step that down a little further. I come down to 30,000 feet and say, okay, what do I need to accomplish for the next 3 – 24 months, the goals, the objectives, the plans that I need to do? What do I need to do to start to make the vision happen?
And then you need to step down to 20,000 feet and say okay, well, what are all the components of the engine that need to be maintained so that this enterprise is healthy and can get me there? So in your work, this would be the area of 4 – 7 things you’re responsible to maintain, grow sales, grow staff, manage assets, stuff like that. As well as in your life, I need to make sure to maintain health and my relationships and my household and my spiritual life and my recreational life and my own personal development, etc. So those would be for the areas we need to maintain, sort of our personal and lifestyle and business work chart, if you will.
But then out of all that, you say, well, okay, I think through all of those things, I probably have a lot of stuff that I need to finish, things that take more than one step. So then you come down to 10,000 feet and say what are all the projects I now have out of all that? And most people have 30 – 100 projects, from get tires on the car to hire an assistant, to launch a new ad campaign, etc. You still don’t have what to do yet. Those are the five, sort of, horizons of outcomes at different levels that you would need to think through. And then you come down and say okay, what do I now need to do out of all that?
And out of all that, comes about 150 – 200 next actions. What are the next physical things that need to do? That’s what I call the runway. That’s where the rubber is truly hitting the road. Emails to send, phone calls to make, stuff to buy at the store, things to go over with my spouse, the next things that need to happen to complete the project, to fulfill my areas of responsibility that are going to get me to my short term objectives, that are going to let me get my vision accomplished, that’s going to fulfill my purpose.
Now, I couldn’t get it any simpler than those six conversations, so that’s why I don’t recommend ABC priority codes or 1-2-3 or high, medium, low because you have a much more sophisticated set of variables that you have to deal with and that somewhat oversimplifies it.
Jason Hartman: There have been, certainly, volumes written and many talks and conversations about the concept of time management. David, is this about time management? Is it about organizing things and papers, or is it more philosophical than that?
David Allen: It’s actually none of that. What it is is really describing, at the end of the day, how good do you feel about what you did, versus what you didn’t do? So it’s really about action. It’s about how well did you manage your allocation of your attention and your resources? That’s really what it’s about. You can’t manage time. That’s the problem. They’ve called it time management for so many years, but if you misidentify a problem, you’ll never come up with a solution. The problem is not time. You can’t manage time. You don’t mismanage five minutes and come up with six.
I think one of the reasons it got called time management is because actually most executives think they need it, and it’s a little embarrassing for executives to admit they need help in managing themselves and their decision making. So let me call it time management. That makes me sound important.
But the truth is it’s really about how you manage yourself. How do you manage your allocation of your focus and your resources? It’s that simple and that complex and there are all the variables that go into that. And it’s actually, yes, organization, as you heard, is a critical component of how to get things under control, but if you just try to go get organized – and I understand that idea. People say let’s get organized and get focused. That’s two very appropriate admonitions, whether you’re trying to get a project going or redo your company or rethink your career. I need to get organized and I need to get focused. No kidding. When the recession hit, that was a lot of conversations in the hallway. “I have to get organized and I have to get focused now,” assuming you don’t want to let yourself just feel run over by the bus.
So those are two appropriate admonitions. But I sort them into control and perspective. But oftentimes, to get control, you need to disorganize what you’re doing the way you’ve been doing it. That’s the problem is a lot of people’s organization is not an appropriate structure for the kind of flexibility, or it’s an old structure that they haven’t redone. They’re too embedded in their comfort zone about it.
So people tend to think of me as an organization guy, but I’m really not. I’m really as much a disorganization guy as anything else.
Jason Hartman: That’s an interesting paradigm shift.
David Allen: Well, come on. If everybody was already organized, you wouldn’t be listening to this right now if you weren’t. There is some level of organization and some level of stasis that you have together just so you can focus on anything. What you need to do is you need to weigh is this the appropriate organizational model or structure for what I’m trying to accomplish because too controlled is out of control because you lack then the flexibility. You don’t have the responsiveness. You don’t have the sensitivity. You don’t have the recalibration capability. So you have to be very careful about it. It’s like you want to get as organized as you need to be, but no more.
But I understand it because for the most part, I think most professionals have over-created and gone way beyond their systems to be able to keep track of what they’ve committed to. So I understand. I say probably for a larger majority, the organization part of this component is a big missing one simply because most people are just running around the victims of their own creativity, what they put into motion way beyond what their systems and their behaviors are keeping up with. That’s why they’re feeling so burnt out.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, I definitely felt that way myself at times. It seems like there is so much about organization and focus and project management that sometimes that becomes the end in and of itself, doesn’t it? And when you say people sometimes over-organize and need to get disorganized, that becomes very inflexible, doesn’t it? That’s interesting.
David Allen: It does. You always have to come back to “what are we trying to accomplish? Where are we trying to go?” And if you think about it, a lot of people move into pretty high performance behavior in a crisis simply because it forces them to focus on an outcome. It forces people to have to sacrifice certain things in order to accomplish the result called live or get out of here, or survive or whatever that saying is, and so people will tend to naturally make some pretty good choices when the heat is really on. Actually, I say make good choice of the problem because if you wait until crisis mode to do this, unfortunately, you lose track of your intuitive, executive intelligence and your forebrain. You go into fight and flight mode, which actually shuts down your ability to be able to make really good decisions.
But the truth is – this is longer than what you asked about – the truth is yes, if you focus too much on the process itself versus what the process is supposed to be accomplishing. People often say, “Gee, David, how organized should I get?” And I say, “Is your head empty yet?” And they go, “No.” And I say, “Well, you need more.” Is that project still on your mind? Yeah. Then you need more project management. If the project is on cruise control, don’t bother. You have enough stuff to think about. Don’t over-organize that.
Jason Hartman: Before we leave the “getting things done,” are there sort of some specific mechanical things, like, for example, a certain type of time management – and I hate to say that word – a calendar system, probably software based? Is there a certain sort of workflow or paper flow that people should adopt? Do you want to say don’t be a packrat? Throw things out. I remember there’s an old thing –
David Allen: The Practical Tactical.
Jason Hartman: Right.
David Allen: The Practical Tactical goes like this. First of all, Stage 1, which is capture the stuff that has your attention. You need all the tools to get stuff out of your head. So you need to be able to write stuff down, have pen and paper with you everywhere, write it down, have in-baskets, answering machines, recording devices. Keep stuff out of your head. That’s the worst thing to do is to file stuff in your head, so the first best practice is to make sure any commitments or any potentially meaningful input had better be captured into some sort of trusted bucket that you trust you will then rummage through and assess sooner than later. So you need good in-baskets, physical in-trays, stack baskets, so you can throw paper and meeting notes in it. You need a pocket note taker like I have, where I just carry it around with me with a pen in it so that I can take notes wherever I am.
And capture is very different than organized. Captured just means I make sure I have the meeting notes there, that I have the thought or the idea I had when I was running to the store. So capture tools, the simplest ones, are just paper and pen, and I have those all around. Wherever I have a flat surface and a phone and conversations, I always have legal pads and pads I can write on so that I capture stuff. And I carry stuff with me to do the same thing.
Then Stage 2 is really then I need to empty those in-baskets, so then I need to go through. And there are no tools for that other than your brain. That’s what your brain is for, to pick up the note you just had and say, okay, what the heck am I going to do about that? What’s the next action?
Now, once I decide what these things mean, that’s the thinking process that you have to apply to the stuff you capture – then I need to organize the things that I can’t finish right away. So once I decide what something means…oh, this email, nothing to do, but I do want to keep it. Then I better have a place to store it. That’s where organized comes in. So then you need to have good categories for stuff.
The action reminders, the things you need to be reminded of to do, those basically just need to be in some form of a list. Everybody needs a good list manager. Lists are not going to handle everything, but they’ll handle the vast majority of things you need to be reminded of and things you need to do. You need a list of all the projects you have. You need a list of all the action items you need to think about, and your calendar is a list itself.
So the short answer, and I know this is not very short, but I have to describe when you say a planner or a time management tool, basically, you’re talking about oftentimes a loose-leaf notebook is a great tool. You can hold a calendar in it and it can also hold lists of reminders in it as well. But it also may have reference material, which is telephone and address, and it might have project plans. It might have a lot of stuff in that one particular tool. What you really need is list capability.
By the way, you can keep a list in a low-tech or mid-tech or a high-tech way. A low-tech way to keep track of all the calls you need to make would be a file folder just labeled, “Calls to Make.” You could just throw pieces of paper in there and that works well. If you wanted a little more mid-tech, what I call it, then you probably could use a loose-leaf notebook with just paper pages in it, where you could create a tab section called “Action List,” and one of those pages could be called “Calls.” Another one could be “Stuff to do with the Computer” and so forth. So you could divide your actions in ways that make sense.
So yeah, when I get to a phone, show me all the calls I need to make. And you could just have a page in a loose-leaf notebook for calls. You could also have a page or two or three pages that list, that just give you an index of all the projects that you need to keep track of until they’re finished. So for just a way to manage lists, a loose-leaf notebook is an elegant way to do that.
And then, of course, there are lots of software ways to manage lists. If you’re in an environment or an organization that’s using either Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook or some sort of very popular groupware applications out there, you can actually configure those so that they can make lists. Oftentimes, that’s not very intuitive when you get those programs, so we’ve written a couple of whitepapers, for instance, on how to reconfigure Outlook so that it matches this good list management model or Lotus Notes. People can find that on our website.
Jason Hartman: Give the website, if you would.
David Allen: It’s www.davidco.com. You can do that and, of course, I think there are over 200 software applications we’ve seen that are purporting to support the “Getting Things Done” model based on my first book. Not that we’ve designed, but all kinds of geeks out there have taken this and gone, “Wow! David really came up with a great idea about lists. Let’s create better ways to manage lists.” So there are all kinds of list management software out there. There are some that’s based on the Clouds, on the web. There’s OmniFocus or Things. Those are two very popular programs for Mac based people that they just manage lists. The Apple world and the Mac world is not quite as productivity oriented as Outlook or Lotus Notes because you still have to kind of tie together various components, like email and your calendar, plus some of these other list programs.
But basically, all you need is some way to manage lists. This comes back to a lot of people out there are into what people have often referred to as “productivity porn,” which is how many different ways, and, wow, let me get a new piece of software; that will solve my life! It won’t unless you really know what lists you need to maintain, and then you need to keep it very simple.
But if you understand what lists you want, you can make pretty much any tool work, as long as you have the capability of making more than one list and categorize them based upon different ways you want to set that up.
Jason Hartman: Very good points. Anything else on the “Practical Tactical” before we go on?
David Allen: Well, you need a good filing system. If you don’t have a place to put paper, the manual for your LED projector, if you don’t have a place for that, then you’ll stack it up and that will blend all across your environment. Interestingly, it’s kind of in the low-tech level in most people’s office. That’s one of the biggest improvement opportunities just to have a good general-reference filing system, just A – Z, so that you can instantly make a label, make a new file, and have a place that, very easily, you can put paper or material things that you want to organize in case you might want to have access to them later on.
Obviously, you need digital filing, but oftentimes, it’s the paper stuff around you and that being disorganized. It kind of backs up on you like bad plumbing and it can really get in your way psychologically as well as visually in terms of just your workspace. So that’s a real good one to handle.
Jason Hartman: Well, can you tell us, are there any quick recommendations on the low-tech filing system because there are just a million philosophies on this stuff, David, and I think people are not sure who to follow or how to do it, and they always default into sort of blending systems together.
David Allen: I wrote about this in my first book. I think I have about four or five pages on setting up a good, easy-to-use filing system. The simple components of it that I’ve seen are if you have specialized kinds of files, like contract files or financial files, oftentimes, those can just be in their own system and that makes sense.
But trying to blend all the other things, these are vendors and these are projects and these are interesting topics and these are whatever, I just found there is nothing that beats the simple alpha system A – Z. I’m sitting here right by mine. If I open up my M-N-O drawer, I see “Menus – Local.” That’s under M, in case I’m calling out for food. Right behind that is a file on Richard Metzger. Behind that is my file on Mexico that has Mexican pesos in there that I still had left when I came back from Mexico, as well as maps and just things I’ve torn out. Behind that is Mexico – Baja because there were some articles that I’ve torn out about that. You get the idea. There’s no rhyme, no reason. It’s called “Alphabetical” because that’s how I’ll remember it and that’s how I can find it.
Jason Hartman: So, for example, when you have all of your vendors for your company in that same file, like the billing stuff, along with manuals?
David Allen: If it’s accounting files, I would probably have that in its own system, like I have my financial files in one special drawer. But it’s still alpha, so there’s American Express and then Blue Cross and then Business First, my bank, and then Citibank. It’s still alphabetical within that context. But because I’m in and out of that a little more frequently with receipts and reconciling bank statements and credit card statements and so forth, I just keep all those together. I could, theoretically, just distribute them all alphabetically, and go find them however I wanted to. It’s just that I’d have to look through multiple drawers to find them instead of just one right here by me.
But all the rest of them, I have about 400 – 500 files otherwise.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. One of the problems that we have with that, is it first name or last name? The vendors sort of have multiple names, too, when you’re dealing with other companies.
David Allen: Sure. Make a decision and –
Jason Hartman: And just stick with it.
David Allen: See, the thing is, it could only be – if you have one system, it could only be two or three places. Is Bill Smith Plumbing under Smith, Bill, or is it under B under Bill Smith Plumbing, or is it under Plumbing – Bill Smith? Who cares? Yeah, there’s no perfect system. Do one or the other. The problem is if you have multiple systems, then you’ve magnified exponentially how many places something is and you forget how you labeled it. With one system, it can only be under P, Plumbing or B, Bill or S, Smith. How long does that take?
Actually, we found over the years that actually is the simplest way to do that. As soon as you try to do – well, all my friends are going to have a pink stripe on them that are also my vendors – but your vendor may be your friend, but then also your customer. That could happen. They fold over a little too much.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, they do. Fair enough. Your other book, before we get to the most recent one, 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done, you’ve touched on a couple of those I’m sure. Are there a couple you just want to point out quickly?
David Allen: That’s just a collection of essays. They kind of range all around this and there is a lot of subtlety to this once you start to catch this. For instance, there’s “speed up by slowing down,” where I’ll expand on that. Or it’s kind of an infinite way to think about this that the strange thing about it is that as you start to work this stuff, there are some interesting truths that start to show up. And I think what I’ve done is just kind of elucidate some of those, more food for thought. As you really start to do these, these principles, I’ve probably uncovered 200 – 300 principles. I couldn’t even bring to mind off the top of my head because they’re just constantly there. It’s more like there’s an inverse proportion between “on your mind” and “getting done.” I’ve just expanded on that.
The more stuff that is on your mind, the less is probably happening, and here’s how come that’s true. There are lots of examples of that. Basically, what I did was sort of explore our human behavior and human nature and say, okay, out of all of that, here are the things that really tend to work.
Jason Hartman: So your latest book is Making It All Work, which strikes me as less tactical and more from that 50,000-foot level, but you do drill down. What about this book?
David Allen: Well, in this book, it doesn’t change any of the basic principles from Getting Things Done and it takes it deeper and wider. In the seven years between the publications of those books, a couple of things happened. One is I was fascinated by how absolutely universal the uptake was on Getting Things Done and sort of the phenomena about why that spread so much around the world without any bias of male/female or profession or country or any of that. It just seemed to spread universally.
And also, why some of these very simple techniques and principles, when you started to apply them, had such potentially transforming kind of results for people. We still get daily the emails from people saying, “Wow! I just read your book. This totally changed my life.” And I say, well, I understand that because actually, when you start to work these principles, the difference between feeling sort of half a beat behind in your life and then being half a beat ahead is phenomenal, though it’s not that much. These simple techniques just happen to have a profound payoff to them.
And so what I wanted to explore was why that was true. What are the principles underneath these principles? How come that’s true? And then, as I began to explore that, I really realized that these principles can be applied all the way across your family life, your department, your company. And so, it was really sort of taking it deeper and wider and a little more, I guess as you say, more of a kind of right rein under Gestalt about what this whole sort of mindset and approach can do in terms of improving conditions.
Jason Hartman: Well, one of the things you talk about in the book is you have a great chart that talks about perspective on one axis and control on the other, and the sort of victim responder relationship, I guess. Tell us about that.
David Allen: It’s a part of the simplicity on the other side of complexity, which I love. It’s sort of like you don’t want things too simple, but what you want to do is after you get through the complexity and sophistication of our lives, is there a simplicity that is a useful way to think about it and to work it? And I think that simplicity is that self-management really comes down to those two elements, control and perspective. And they are two different elements. They’re very closely tied to each other in many ways, but they are different elements that are approached in different ways. And if you map those together in a matrix, so you can have no control and no perspective, or you could have high control and no perspective, or you could have high perspective and no control, or you could have high control and high perspective. So obviously, those are the four quadrants if you map these together.
And what I discovered was it really does map to where we are in situations oftentimes. You have no control. “I don’t know what to focus on and I’m out of control.” That puts you sort of in the victim quadrant. We all fall in there. This is not about personality. It’s just about a situation. You get off the phone from a major phone call, it could be totally exciting that totally gives you ideas you never thought of before, and it will throw you there. It’s like now, I thought I had my day planned, but this thing was totally unexpected. It blew me away. Now I’m disorganized, out of control, and I don’t know what to focus on next. That’s not a bad thing. You just don’t want to stay there. If you stay there, you’ll wind up being in a toxic kind of situation. But basically, you need to get out of there.
Now, let’s say, organizations sometimes say we need more structure, or it may not be more structure, but if you get more structure without vision or focus, now you have micromanagement. Now you have too much structure. Okay, let’s go get structure, but again, to your earlier point, you forgot what you’re actually trying to accomplish and you’re not moving toward the vision and toward your goals because you’re too constrained. You tie yourself in your own knickers, if you will; too many rules too many policies, too many procedures, too much structure.
Jason Hartman: Not enough flexibility.
David Allen: Or too old. It’s inappropriate structure now where you are. So then people go okay, let’s get some more vision here, and if you go hire some visionary person, but they don’t have any control factors or if you’re there, now you’re a crazy-maker or you have one, where you’re constantly having ideas all over the place and not much of a consciousness or awareness of constraints or resources. So they’re jumping all over the place, creating all kinds of new things, making everybody nuts, and themselves as well just because of so many ideas going in 43 different directions.
Ultimately, there is an ideal quadrant, but what if I have just enough control and just the right amount of focus. The analogy I use, I call it “Captain and Commander Mode,” where you’re in a sailing ship and you have a light touch on the helm and you have a keen eye on the horizon where you’re going, and your gut is just tied very sensitively to all the different components as you’re getting there, the wind and the tide and the waves and the rope and the sails. You can smell it; you can feel it. You’re on, if you will. You might be in stormy seas, but you’re on about how you’re navigating the stormy seas, as opposed to being tossed around, you don’t know where the ship is pointed, and sinking.
So that’s the idea. How do I get to that Captain and Commander modality? By the way, anybody listening to this, if you wanted to take a free assessment that will let you know where you are on that, you can go to www.gtdiq.com and take about a three-minute assessment, and it will actually dot you where you are. It’s free. You just go there. There are a couple of articles you can see right on that page as well about the matrix and how to use it. But if you just wanted to go there and take a look. We found we had a very, very sophisticated company help us design that assessment and we’ve had thousands of people take it and use it. It’s kind of a neat way to see and it will give you a little bit of a prescription based upon where you wind up on that chart. It will give you a little bit of prescription about it. Okay, here’s, then, what might be more important to you, whether you need to set a little bit more direction or maybe you just need to get a little more control.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, I’m looking at that quiz right now and those are some interesting questions. What’s interesting about this chart is – okay, so the worst place to be, and of course, it’s not about a person’s personality; it’s just about a situational thing. So we all move around these four quadrants at some time or another.
David Allen: Sure. You can be a victim on the golf course and Captain and Commander in the kitchen. Or you could start out Captain and Commander because you got to work early and you’re on your game, but then the first three phone calls and two people that walk into your office kind of blew the heck out of what you thought you were doing, and you wind up in victim mode. Then you wind up getting sort of organized, but then you get a little too organized because you get a phone call that’s a little risky, so you just keep trying to avoid it by getting more ready. And then you finally get on the call and you get totally excited because now you’ve handled that successfully and now you have 43 different ideas, and now you’ve moved over to crazy-maker. So yeah, you can move around this chart many times a day.
Jason Hartman: Right. I think sometimes I do.
David Allen: Yeah, we do.
Jason Hartman: So the worst place to be, Victim Responder, and the best place to be is Captain and Commander. And I love the way you put that. You said you see the horizon, you see the distant goal – and that’s the visionary side – but without being a crazy-maker because you have a light touch on the helm. You’re controlling the ship. And you’re not a micromanager either. You’re visionary enough, but you manage details well also, right?
David Allen: Sure. And the idea is flexibility about where your focus is. Should I be focused now? Write it down. Oops! There’s a leak. I better run down there. Let me put this on automatic pilot so I can go down below and see what’s happening down there. And then, okay, I’ve been down below long enough. I better get back up. And I need to come back up and I need to take it off autopilot, and what’s happening with the current? The wind just changed the ship and we need to shift the sail.
So what you don’t want to do is stay anywhere longer than you need to, to be able to get onto cruise control again. One of the key points I wrote in my last book is pay attention to what has your attention because if you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will start to take more of your attention than it deserves. So back to the Captain and Commander analogy or metaphor, yeah, boy, I’ve been a sailor and had a boat, and believe me, you will get very sensitive. Wait a minute! What has my attention right now? Somehow I see something coming up there and I think I better loosen that sail a little bit, or look; there’s a ship coming and it looks like it’s about to cross my bow in about six minutes. Whoa!
So it’s really paying attention and we all do this. But I think the analogy holds.
Jason Hartman: Very good. Well, what would you like to say in terms of wrapping all of this up, David?
David Allen: Well, I think one of the core messages I have is that all I’ve done is identify what we all already do, so there are no skills required to be able to really have your head totally clear and kind of get yourself into Captain and Commander Mode. Nor do you need any more tools than you currently have. Everybody has the tools they really need to really make this work. And everybody knows – in other words, you know how to write things down. You know how to make action decisions. You know how to make lists. There’s nothing particularly foreign about this. And I suppose the big message is and why I still stay so inspired, and I guess a lot of people still do with this material, is there is so little risk and it’s so easy to actually start to do some of this, and the payoff is huge.
In other words, the risk/reward ratio, the ROI here is huge in terms of how much time and energy you might want to focus on your own process using my model, and then you just notice the benefits you get out of it. There are lots of ways to play.
Jason Hartman: So two different websites: www.gtd.com, which, by the way, you should just point out, that stands for Getting Things Done; www.gtdiq.com where you can take that quiz, and then www.davidco.com is the other website, right?
David Allen: www.davidco.com.
Jason Hartman: Well, David Allen, thank you so much. We really appreciate it and hopefully, we’ll be a lot more productive from talking to you today.
David Allen: It was fun, Jason. Take care.
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The Holistic Survival Show
Transcribed by Ralph