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David Allen: Productivity Legend and Creator of Getting Things Done on Getting Clear, Solving Problems and Mastering GTD.

David Allen Interview
56 MINUTE READ
David Allen Interview
David Allen
David Allen is a best-selling author, productivity legend and the creator of Getting Things Done – the ultimate, bulletproof methodology for getting organised, clearing your head and feeling more on top of your life.

Find him on GettingThingsDone.com

David Allen Interview (Video)


Audio/Podcast Version

Show Links & Notes

SHOW LINKS:

SHOW NOTES: How do you introduce David Allen? If you know who David is already then he’s a man who needs no introduction. Like me, you’re probably here because you’ve experienced first hand the life-changing power of his work.

If you don’t know David is, then the best introduction I can give you is to send you directly to the summary of one of my favourite productivity books of all time.

Read it. Experiment with it. Stick with it.

Enjoy the video/audio interviews above and the full transcript below.

And if you have any questions? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Full Interview Transcript

Arthur Worsley:
I just want to say thank you again for coming on and being interviewed by me.

David Allen:
My pleasure.

Arthur Worsley:
So, for anyone who doesn’t know who we’re speaking to, if they haven’t gathered it from the title, I’m talking with David Allen, who is, I think, probably most famous for writing Getting Things Done (GTD). You were just explaining to me now that the books stacked up behind you are all the different translations of Getting Things Done. Is that right?

David Allen:
Getting Things Done, and Ready For Anything, and Making It All Work, and the new Workbook, and Getting Things Done For Teens. So, those are all the Getting Things Done library of stuff so far.

Arthur Worsley:
That’s amazing. How many languages has it been translated into?

David Allen:
Getting Things Done is in about 30 languages, I think. I think the new edition may be 28 languages, something like that.

Arthur Worsley:
That’s amazing. Yeah, I just reread the new edition. I think GTD is one of those books that a lot of people read once, but to really get the most out of it, like all the best books, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, whatever it is, you really have to read it three, four, five times, and every time I go back to it, I get new things out of it that I just wasn’t ready for. We’ll talk a bit about it later, but the horizons idea, the bigger picture thinking. When you get started, you’re just so swamped in the initial brain dump, and then you kind of have to read it a few more times.

Arthur Worsley:
Also, I think the first thing that everyone does when they read GTD is implement GTD plus all of the great ideas they think are better from their own productivity system. I don’t know if that’s something you see commonly.

David Allen:
It’s a common trait, yes.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. So, I did that. I jumped and I got all of the software, and I implemented GTD, but I was like, “I’ll just make these tweaks, it’s going to be better.” And it took me until the third or fourth time that my system collapsed, and probably the third time that I read the book to just say to myself, “Why don’t I just try and do exactly what David says in Getting Things Done and we’ll see what happens?” And it was so much simpler.

David Allen:
There are a lot of miles on the tires before I wrote the book. As I say, it took me 20 years to figure out what I’d figured out, and then nobody else seemed to have done it like that, and that it was bulletproof. But there are thousands of hours, one on one with some of the busiest and brightest people on the planet behind all of that. So, it was tested in the fires a lot.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. Again, I think if you read How to Win Friends and Influence People, if you read any of Covey’s stuff, the books, it’s always intimidating when you read someone’s amazing, I guess, masterwork, but actually what you have to remember is what makes it a masterwork is all of that detail, and context, and all of those many thousands of hours of experience of knowing exactly what it is that goes wrong and that go into it. So, that definitely comes through in the stories in the book.

David Allen:
Well, I’m not a ta-da, ta-da kind of person. And for me to put out a manual of, essentially, my professional career and all I learned from it, I needed to make sure it was really right and that you couldn’t punch a hole in it.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. So, I’d love to talk about your backstory because it’s something that I wasn’t… When you read Getting Things Done, and I think a lot of people, when they read a book like this, or any self-help book where everything is put together, they think, “Wow, this can’t possibly be for me. This guy has clearly had it all sorted out from day one. This is just his system and he’s just said it.” And I was reading your Wikipedia bio, doing my sort of pre-interview stalking, and I was reading about your 35 jobs before the age of 35, and all of the amazing, crazy, wonderful things you’ve done. And I would love to just hear a bit about how you… I mean, obviously, there’s the part where you started doing the coaching, but even before that, how did that influence your thinking and how did that influence where you are today?

David Allen:
Well, let’s see if I can give you a short version of a very long story. I thought I was going to be an academic. In college, I got fascinated by philosophy first, and then I got more fascinated by the philosophers themselves and why they thought the way they thought. So, I became an intellectual historian, or at least I started to study the history of culture, history of thought, history of whatever. And we didn’t call it paradigms back then, but that was really what it was about, the cultural paradigms and how those affect perception, performance, and all kinds of stuff. So, I was fascinated by that.

David Allen:
I’ve always been fascinated by sort of how the invisible stuff affects the visible because we know you can’t see emotions or you can’t see the mental stuff, although there are some psychically attuned people that think they can or maybe can, but the truth is there’s a lot of invisible stuff that does affect us visibly. And I figured, since I’m the laziest guy you ever met, I figured if you could get a hold of what’s really driving all this and sort of get a hold of it and get inside of that, then you can really be masterful without having to work much harder. So, that was in retrospect, anyway. I can’t say that I would have put those words back then, but that was why history or history of thought sort of intrigued me.

David Allen:
So, then I got into graduate school and did American Intellectual History in Berkeley in ’68. Actually, I was enjoying it, but just some things happened in my life where I had started to become more interested in achieving my own enlightenment instead of just studying other people who had theirs, and I had a sense that I wasn’t going to find it in academia, so I dropped out of graduate school, and then went on a really intensive self-exploration journey; martial arts, spiritual practices, meditation stuff, all kinds of interesting things about that. So, I was more interested in finding out who I was, and what I was, and what I was about, and the sort of inner game, if you will, and not particularly interested in material stuff. Matter of fact, I’ve never been particularly entrepreneurial or aspirational sort of in terms of the material world out there. But I had to pay the rent so had to get jobs, and that’s where a lot of my 35 jobs showed up, although my first job was a magician at age five in Palestine, Texas.

David Allen:
Anyway. So, I knew folks out there that were starting their own businesses, had small things that they were doing, and they seemed to know what they were doing, so I became a pretty good number-two guy. So, I helped friends in New Orleans start a restaurant in L.A, I helped a friend manage a service station and a car restoration business, I sold mopeds, I sold vitamins. I helped a friend of mine run a landscape company in San Fernando Valley. Of course, I would just show up and go, “Well, how much easier can we make this?” Now they call that process improvement. I’m just lazy. There’s got to be some easier way to get from here to there.

David Allen:
So, I would help them improve their systems and their processes. And then it got fixed, I got bored and I’d leave and go find another job. And then I discovered they call those people something and they pay them, they’re all consultants. Gee, okay. So, I hung up my shingle in 1981, ’82, something like that, and Allen Associates. So, that’s when I started just working on a project by project basis for people who seemed to think that I might be able to help them in terms of their businesses, but I’ve never had any formal traditional education in business psychology or time management, so I thought, “Well.”

David Allen:
And it turns out that because of my involvement in some personal growth training groups, that there was a pretty big network of people of pretty sophisticated folks back in the late ’70s, early ’80s, and I became a trainer for insight seminars. It was all avocational, so I wasn’t getting paid for that. But that way, I met a lot of people, pretty sophisticated. I met some pretty sophisticated consultants, so I just kind of hung out with them to sort of tease out of them what I needed to learn about that kind of process. And then one guy turned out to be a really good mentor of mine for a couple of years. I acknowledge him in the book. And I got to hang out with him and watch how he worked his process. And he was focused very much on organizational change, and organizations that wanted to go faster, further, different, whatever, how do you walk them through that process to make that happen.

David Allen:
And so he came up with some techniques that he had discovered after his 25 years of working with a lot of organizations, and particularly, executives, of what was necessary for an organization to really make a change and make it stick, was to clean it up. A lot of old business, a lot of open loops, and there was a lot of stuff hanging around in people’s heads that was hanging them up, and they were avoiding making next action decisions about a whole lot of things. So, he came up with a process, which became integral to the Getting Things Done thing, which was empty everything out of your head that has your attention and makes next action decisions about all of them and handle stuff like that. So, I worked with him and I saw so many problems that were solved just with that first event as opposed to even the rest of the whole consulting package, which I was involved in all of that for quite a number of years. But that became sort of the core thing.

David Allen:
First of all, I was blown away by those techniques because he used it first on me and I emptied my head. And I wasn’t broken. It wasn’t like I was in some dark pain. I thought I had my act pretty well together. But when Dean walked me through the process and I emptied everything out of my head and then made next action decisions about each one of them, I watched how transformational that was just in terms of my energy, how much more clarity, and focus, and control, and mental space that created.

David Allen:
And so I turned around and started using that with my clients as well and it turned out to produce exactly the same results; more clarity, more stability, more control, more focus. So I thought, “Well, that’s pretty cool.” So, that became the part of what I was doing in my own little consulting practice. Then a senior HR guy, head of human resources, actually, for a big corporation, saw what I was doing, they said, “Gee, David, we need those kinds of results on our whole company. Can you design some sort of a training mechanism or seminar format where we can reach a lot of people with this model as opposed to one on one?” So, I did that and it was quite successful.

David Allen:
So, I wound up being thrust into the corporate training world. And then since then, that was Lockheed 1983, ’84. And from then on, until I published Getting Things Done, thousands and thousands of people went through seminars that I was doing, but all really referral based. I never did any marketing. All I did was pick up the phone, and sort of managed my own boutique consulting and training practice. My consulting turned into a lot of coaching one-on-one with senior people in these companies, so that’s where I got a lot of experience in refining, honing and testing this methodology and making sure it was bulletproof. So, that’s a short version of a very long story.

Arthur Worsley:
Wow. There’s a lot of really cool lessons in there. I’m super interested, and maybe it’s a conversation for another time, but I’m super interested… A lot of the time when I see people who are fascinated from a young age by how people work, there’s often a reason behind that and there’s something which makes them click. And suddenly, when you have a very normal, very straightforward childhood and everything runs on the rails, you kind of never think to ask questions about why people think the way they do and what it is that’s going on. Maybe it was your magic that was what kicked it off. I was watching something recently that was saying, the thing about magicians is they were the first psychologists, right? They understand things about the way attention works, and the way people see things in a way that us muggles don’t understand, right? Do you think that’s what kicked off your interest in sort of how people’s brains work, I mean, at age five, the ability to fool someone who’s 20 years older than you or do you think it was something else?

David Allen:
I don’t know. I have no idea. It was sort of a gradual process over all those years. I was an actor as a kid in the community theatre in Shreveport where I grew up, and that certainly gave me the experience of making things up.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. Vital for a consultant. 😅

David Allen:
And also, I think I’ve been an educator, really, more than anything else in my life, and I had a lot of relatives that were school teachers, and I kind of grew up around that. My mom taught English, that’s why I sort of knew how to write. So, I think that was in my DNA, anyway, was that. And also, I can remember when I was like four or five years old, a lot of kids want to be a fireman or a policeman or whatever, I just wanted to be a horticulturist or a comedian, or both, because I loved to grow flowers.

David Allen:
I started growing flowers when I was four or five years old, planting seeds and watching them grow. And then I also loved to make people laugh, because I saw a lot of people in pain, and a lot of people were quite unhappy, and if I could make them laugh, it was a healing process, it looked like. I sort of knew that instinctively. So, I wound up kind of doing both of those over my life in sort of strange little ways. Certainly, not in any traditional form, but I think those were a lot of my drivers for that, and sort of understanding people, understanding myself, and understanding the dynamics of what is a human being, and what do we do, and how do we get free, really? I’m a freedom guy. And people often think, “Gee, David, you must be so anally retentive and uptight and strung out,” given the fact that I wrote GTD.

David Allen:
And it’s funny, I was just doing a keynote yesterday for a bunch of project managers and they said, “Doesn’t this stifle your intuition and your spontaneity?” And I said, “I don’t like to plan anything that I don’t need to.” If you hang out around me you’ll see I’m one of the loosest, most spontaneous… I love following my spontaneous intuitive hunches and to doing what I feel like doing. That’s how I came up with GTD and why I knew it was so powerful because it actually allowed me to do that. It gave me the freedom to be much clearer and much freer in my head and being present with whatever I was doing. And when you get present, you start to discover there’s kind of a natural inspiration that emerges, and you don’t have to really work at it. You get really clear, and you can’t help be inspired.

Arthur Worsley:
I still remember I was 20 when I picked up GTD for the first time. There are a few books that sort of changed the way I look at things. So, Brian Tracy, Stephen Covey, and Tim Ferriss, who I know that you know well with The 4-Hour Workweek, and yours was one of them. And I was studying psychology, philosophy and physiology at Oxford, and I was trying to run two businesses, and I’d just invested in a property, and my head felt like it was exploding. Even though I had no plans, I felt constantly constrained by everything. I remember reading the first time, you were like, “Just write one thing down and what the next action is.” And I did it, and there was this magical moment of relief. And I was like, “Wow, I feel free for the first time.” And over the years, I’ve had exactly the question that you’ve just brought up where people say, “Oh, but I’m a creative person. I can’t possibly use GTD. I don’t like to be tied down.”

Arthur Worsley:
And I always have to say, it’s not till I started writing everything down and putting it in a system that I became the most creative that I’ve ever been, because suddenly, I wasn’t using 80% of my brain to keep track of all the products or all the projects that I wanted to do, or buying the milk or whatever it was. Suddenly, I could be free, and also, I could be totally spontaneous. When I’ve met some of my best friends just on a total off chance, and instead of being like, “Oh, I should, but I’ll feel really guilty because I’ve got work to do,” or like feeling guilty afterwards, I could just be like, “Yeah, I’ll just drop everything and follow this opportunity because I know what I’m giving up, I know what I’m not doing.” I think that’s the real magic of this system.

David Allen:
Well, it’s magic but it’s also a cautionary tale. The better you get at this, the easier it is. It’s so easy for me to go, “Screw it, just pile it up. I know how to empty all that later on.”

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah.

David Allen:
It’s like, “I know the game and I know how to do that,” and so I let myself kind of drop off the end of the pier many times and just go way out of control just having fun, or just doing what I feel like doing because I know how to get back on. And it’s very easy to fall out of control, but it’s also very easy to get back in, and that’s what, I think, the magic of GTD is, that it gives you that capability.

Arthur Worsley:
100%. I always say to my clients, they always worry when things go wrong, they fall off the wagon, they miss a weekly review, they don’t do an evening planning session, or they don’t get their habits done for the week, and I always say that the magic of productivity is not being on the wagon, it’s being able to get back on the wagon super fast. Someone who looks like they’ve got it really together is actually constantly just falling off, but they’re getting back on so quickly you don’t see it. Balance is always like falling, but just constantly correcting, right?

David Allen:
That’s how you walk.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, exactly. When you run, you’re just falling off balance forwards and just catching up the whole time.

David Allen:
Well, it’s also why the people most attracted to GTD are the people who need it the least. They’re already the most inspired, positive thinking, aspirational, organized people, they already know the value of systems, they already know that they can produce high value when they have more space and more room, and their issue is just, like yours was, you were just up to here. You didn’t have any room for anything else. And it’s really, in a sense, the most dynamic and high performing people that throw themselves out of their own comfort zone more than anything else.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. And they don’t have the tools to take themselves out of that hole that they’ve built for themselves.

David Allen:
Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. So, the story sounds like, you’re five years old, you’re interested in magic, you also have this amazing thing where your mother is an English teacher, and as William Zinsser says, “Clear thinking is clear writing.” So, you’re already used to putting stuff down on paper, you feel good, you know that that’s powerful. You grow up, you’re doing acting, which is a lot of thinking about how people think and having to get into the head of characters. You start reading about philosophy, which I’ve just summarized Apology, Plato’s Apology. It’s fascinating to get into people’s head and understand the idea of examining your own life and why you believe what you believe. And then you end up kind of just like a curious person getting into all of these roles where you’re helping other people, and in many ways, you become the integrator for many visionaries.

Arthur Worsley:
So, there are lots of people who’ve started their businesses and you come in, like you say, as number two, and you’re just constantly practising. You come in in a place where you’re perfectly situated to get good at helping them, to building walls underneath the castles that they built in the sky. And then you take that on for yourself. You start doing your own business, and you’re at the same time, kind of in this golden age of time and task management in the 1970s and early 1980s. The time planners are going crazy. And so you meet all these amazing people who are doing the same things and you start learning from them. You can just look at it and see the story happening.

Arthur Worsley:
You talk a lot about your peers as a source of influence for you. I know you’ve mentioned people like Peter Drucker in previous interviews, but were there two or three big thinkers who you can look back at reading one of their books or listening to one of their seminars and having the same moment that I had when I read GTD, I mean like, “Ah, this is something which is going to change my life”?

David Allen:
No.

Arthur Worsley:
Interesting.

David Allen:
No, I haven’t. There’s a lot of value I’ve gotten from a lot of people and a lot of books. I can’t say there was any one thing that really sort of turned me around. I think some of the most dramatic experiences I had with books was when I was in sort of my spiritual journey, my spiritual path, reading a book like Black Elk Speaks. Incredible book.

Arthur Worsley:
I’ve not heard of that one. So, I love book recommendations, by the way, it’s one of my favourite things. And I’m going to note down Black Elk Speaks. I’m actually just going to type a note now. I mean, I’ll get it from the recording, but any others?

David Allen:
And I read Dianetics, Hubbard’s book, and I read Ouspensky’s person that wrote about him and wrote about that. I forget the name of it, whatever that was. And certainly, in college, what really turned me on to history and the history of thought was reading Spengler’s The Decline of the West. He was the guy who basically, very dramatically talked about cultures having a life of their own. And I think he identified seven or nine basic cultures that had their own birth, and childhood, and noontime, and then some downtime, and then end times. And he was the first one… and this was in the early 1900s, when he was writing about this, he was the first one to sort of talk about that western civilization was in the same cycle as Rome was, so the fall of Rome, and that the western civilization was going to crumble in the same way that Rome did. Interesting stuff. So, that was also quite fascinating to me, and I think that was one of the things that sort of got me thinking about that kind of stuff and just noticing how that worked.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. So, people often come with the external problem of productivity, they feel super overwhelmed, and I think a very wise friend said to me once that there are two ways to sort of have an enlightenment moment. You can either lose everything or you can gain everything, and those are the two points at which you do things. And I think one of the things that I find most interesting when I work with people on a system like GTD, is you teach them a system, they think their main problem is external, and they think it’s because they haven’t reached wherever they’re going yet.

Arthur Worsley:
And so you teach them the system that will help them get to wherever it is they want to go, and then suddenly, if they realize that they’re not… It’s not that they’re not happier. I think certainly there’s less anxiety, there’s less stress, there’s better sleep, you have better outcomes, but you suddenly realize that there’s this inner journey that you have to go on as well of just realizing that, if there wasn’t a cognitive dissonance between where you are now and someplace that you want to be, you don’t have to feel it as a stressful experience, you always have to have that there, there are always problems to solve. That’s part of being human, right? That’s what makes being human so interesting.

David Allen:
Well, we’re teleological (goal-oriented), we’re always doing something. Even when you are doing nothing, you’re doing that, so you can’t stop unless you go to sleep. But even then, you’re probably still teleological in terms of the dream state.

Arthur Worsley:
So obviously, people talk to you a lot about the external journey, the getting things done thing, but we talk about influences, and you brought up some people who talked about the spiritual side of things. Have you found that those are two separate journeys or have you found that they have influenced each other in some way, or do you find that you also end up going on an internal journey with some of your clients when you’re teaching them about GTD? Is there more to it than just the systems and processes?

David Allen:
Well, there’s a backdrop of my experience in my spiritual quest, there are some things I learned about and sort of working hypotheses, essentially, and my working hypothesis was really on the planet to do to two key things in terms of our job here. One is to complete, the other is to create. In other words, there is a necessity to finish whatever you’ve put in motion, whether that was 10 minutes ago or 10,000 lifetimes ago. You will need it. You put it in motion, it’s out there, it’s going to come around, and there will be something that you will need to complete or finalize or finish about that. Even the Christ action. Jesus was quite a phenomenal teacher about that, and a lot of that was about completion, completing things, making sure you don’t have open loops that are hanging out there.

David Allen:
So, completing things, that seemed to be a huge part of what we really needed to do. And then once you get clear because you completed, you can’t help it, you now need to focus on what you’re creating. So, you can’t stop creating. So, you’re always creating. So, there’s this dynamic of finishing things and then creating new things.

David Allen:
When I first designed the training, I said there are really two things that I want to make sure that I’ve shared with people from my experience, both internally, as well as what I noticed in the world and my own experience out here, was the power and the necessity for clarity of completing things, or at least acknowledging what is an open-loop and what is incomplete in your life. That gets translated in GTD terms called what has your attention? And you can fool me, but you can’t fool yourself in terms of the decisions you’ve made and agreements you’ve made with yourself. And so being accountable and responsible to yourself about those, and the power of that, and the necessity to do that to stay clear and focused. And then once you’re clear and focused, what are you now creating? You can’t stop creating. So, you’re still putting in motion, you just want to make sure you put the things in motion that some part of you has agreed with yourself need to be or you want to be really in motion out there.

David Allen:
So, those two things wound up being the essence of what Getting Things Done is really about.

Arthur Worsley:
Interesting.

David Allen:
It’s about completion and about creation. And so, you can tie that to the universe, you can tie it to the spiritual world, you can tie it to all kinds of things. So, in that way, my experience in the spirit is the same stuff, you’re still going to need to complete there and create there.

Arthur Worsley:
Spiritual becomes the why and the what, and the GTD becomes part of the answer of the how.

David Allen:
It is, but I don’t try to fool anybody and say that GTD is spiritual.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, no it isn’t.

David Allen:
It allows you, if you’re on a path of exploring the spirit or yourself, it makes that easier to do because it reduces the distractions out there and allows you to get clearer about that stuff, but it’s not necessary. All I have to do is take a 15-year-old or a 9-year-old and say, “What’s that piece of paper doing in your pack? What do you think you need to do about it?” And instead of them being the victim to that note that they really need to get to mom to sign, that they’ve forgotten about, they now are in the driver’s seat of their life with it and they’re now appropriately engaged with it. So, appropriate engagement, I think, is true on any level. Are you appropriately engaged with whatever? I mean, you can name whatever that is.

David Allen:
So, the neat thing about it is that there’s nothing in GTD that hurts as I said. We say, it’s not like running with scissors. Anything you do to get more stuff out of your head because your head wasn’t designed to remember, remind, prioritize, or manage more than four things before you start to lose cognitive abilities.

Arthur Worsley:
There is one catch, though. The downside I often see with people is sometimes you can be in denial about how much stuff there is to complete in their lives because in some ways you’re… If you think of the human brain as like someone with a flashlight and they’re moving around a room, and the room is full of stuff, in some ways it can be a blessing in disguise to only be able to see a little bit of the light that’s being let out, right? And I often see people put everything down on paper on GTD and they spend six hours, seven hours and get it all out, and then they go, “Oh my gosh. How have I got all this stuff?” I mean, that must be something you’re familiar with.

David Allen:
Sure. Well, in our experience usually doing coaching for years with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, the typical mid to senior-level professional, it takes one to six hours just to gather all that, not to organize it, not to prioritize it, just to identify what’s got their attention. Because to your point, you can only remember one at a time and so you don’t know how many are lying under the rock till you start to roll the rock over and go, “Oh my God. Look at all that stuff.”

David Allen:
I just met a guy yesterday, big champion of my stuff, and his comment was it took him three days.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. I think especially if you don’t obey the two-minute rule and you start getting into the… Your famous two-minute rule is much easier to talk about than it is to actually be disciplined about. And I find that often people get into it and then they find something, they go off and do a 10-minute errand, and then a 20-minute task, and then it can take three days to get everything down on paper because you’re doing as well as collecting.

David Allen:
Sure. And that’s one of the things that GTD did, was illuminate the difference between collecting and organizing, and most people don’t have that distinction and that’s what causes a lot of the ambiguity and weirdness. And so those are two very different things, different tools and different processes to do that. So, that’s, I think, one of the important distinctions that people who really get GTD understand, the difference between those two things.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, so hard to do. And I see it with people when they’re going through their email inboxes as well, the difference between sorting things into an action folder, and a waiting folder, and replying to emails to really obey the two-minute rule. I always say to people that a good rule of thumb is if you couldn’t reply with an emoji or a string of emojis, it’s probably not a two-minute reply, unless you’re just forwarding it to someone, because otherwise, it’s so easy to get like five, 10, 15 minutes into it.

Arthur Worsley:
So, something I’m super interested in is, we talked a lot about the idea of completion and creation, right? And so what I see happens with a lot of people when they implement GTD, and they do it well, when they first implemented is, if this is their life, and they’re back to back, they have 300 hours of stuff scheduled every week. They implement GTD, they get it going, they get it running smoothly, and what happens is it kind of compresses everything to this, and one, this feels great, because it’s out of your head, and two, you have this amazing creative space then where you’re like, “Wow, I can actually take on more projects. I feel comfortable saying yes to this, or I can actually take the weekend off and I don’t feel worried about stuff.”

Arthur Worsley:
But what I’ve seen happen a lot of the time, and what happened to me actually, early on, is the space that I created ended up just filling up with more and more things because you’ve become the kind of person who has a reputation for being able to complete stuff, people then give you their stuff to complete. And so what you end up doing is you end up being twice as efficient, or three, or four, or five times as efficient, but you’re still just as busy, and that’s when people I think have their first, or it’s when I had my first disillusionment with the system when I was like, “Wow, this was amazing for three weeks and now I’m just doing three times as much stuff three times as efficiently.”

Arthur Worsley:
I mean, you must have seen that a lot as well. Is that a common mistake that you see people making, and how do you talk to people about that, how do you coach them through that?

David Allen:
It’s a pretty common syndrome for people who really get inspired with GTD, and to your point, they get inspired to take on more, and more, and more, and more stuff. At some point, usually, it takes a year or two. If you got to that point in three weeks, that was fast. But usually, then they go, “Oh, wait a minute, I’m burning out. That’s not what GTD is really about,” and that’s really true.

David Allen:
So, my only coaching to them is, “Great, I couldn’t have told you that. There’s only one way you’re going to find that out, you have to experience that. And then at a certain point, you’ll come up with a balance, usually, internally, with how much stuff you’re willing to commit to and to take on.” But one of my sayings is, “the better you get, the better you better get”, since not only are you going to be given and giving yourself more sophisticated and complex things to do, but you also need to get better at the triage and saying, “Someday maybe is a good list to have.”

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, that’s the king list. If you don’t have a good someday maybe, then… It’s like one of those cartoon hose pipes where someone stands on the end, and it just starts blowing up. And people come to me, they go, “Arthur, I’ve got 70 projects.” And I’m like, “Have you moved anything to your someday maybe list?” And often, that’s where the block is, or one of the places anywhere.

David Allen:
Sure. The someday maybe list is kind of a big sleeper in the system. And a lot of people, because they don’t trust the someday maybe list because they think well, it’s kind of a throwaway. It’s not. Then they don’t put things on there that they really are interested in doing at some point, and so then they fill up all their other lists with those things that they’re really don’t have the bandwidth to manage or to deal with.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, 100%. I find people, especially things like reading where people get forwarded interesting presentations, or PDFs, or eBooks, or whatever it is, and they don’t want to put it in their someday maybe because they’re worried that they’ll never get around to it, and so they keep it in the action folder of their emails, and then before you know what’s happened, you have like an actual folder that’s full of stuff that needs doing but also is just a someday maybe folder, and people then stop using the action folder, and then they’re back to square one with the inbox.

David Allen:
Yeah, pretty easy to go numb to your list.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, 100%. I would love to talk about the weekly review in a minute. I really liked your point about the better you get, the better you better get. I always think of it, if you were riding a bicycle and you hit a stone at five miles an hour, it’s no big deal, you kind of get back on your thing, but if you’re trying to break a land speed record across the Gobi Desert and you hit a tiny little pebble, then you go flying out.

Arthur Worsley:
And I think that’s another thing that people often find, is there’s the first thing where you end up getting totally stressed, and the second is where you have your first major blowout where if something goes wrong, you get sick, something happens, you come back and your system is a total mess, often, people are deadlining everything in their system, they come back, everything’s red, and they haven’t obeyed the rule about keeping the next actions and the projects and the outcome or projects and the plan separate, and it’s chaos. So, these are all common issues I see people suffering with. I’m sure you’ve seen it hundreds and hundreds of times.

David Allen:
It’s true. Sure. And to be fair, it took me several years, myself to both explore, and build, and refine what this model was even for myself. So, I understand it’s kind of you’re swallowing a big pill all at once and you can pretty easily run off the rails.

Arthur Worsley:
So, I always say to people, “The only way to version 100 is through version 1,” right? Some people can help you get through the versions quicker, but you have to go through version one yourself. And when I said, “Is there any way you can fix this?” I love the fact is that you just have to go through it yourself. The only way that you can work out what homeostasis looks like, what the golden mean looks like is to experience both of those extremes and to go through it.

David Allen:
Sure. And in a very simple way, it’s like trying to explain what GTD is like to somebody before they actually start to do it is like trying to describe what chocolate tastes like if they never tasted it.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. Or driving a car. I imagine someone saying, “You’re going to be fine. These are all the things you need to do.” And you get in the car, you’re like, “Ah.” Yeah, 100%.

Arthur Worsley:
So, one of the things which I also struggled with when I… And this is years and years in. So, I built the system and I ended up having this thing where I actually ended up… sort of my short term goals that I’d been aiming towards ended up disappearing, and what I found is that I hadn’t done any of the thinking on the horizons that you talked about, so the six horizons that I think you mentioned in the book. And I got out of my job, I was working at McKinsey, and I had this, I call it like a Ferrari. I’d built this amazing system and I was like, “I don’t know where to point it anymore.”

Arthur Worsley:
And even when I was at McKinsey, with hindsight, it would have been helpful to have that because it would have helped me triage better. How do you say no when you don’t have a BATNA, right? When you don’t have a best alternative to a negotiated agreement. So, if someone says, “Hey, can you do this piece of work?” And your choice is do the piece of work or don’t do it, you’re going to do it, but if your choice is, don’t do the piece of work, or spend time with your family, or your loved ones, or whatever it is, some other goal that you’re excited about.

Arthur Worsley:
So, I’m super curious to know… I know you say in the book, you should do those… and people can read this in the summary and also in your book, but there’s the six or five levels or five horizons that you talk about, but how do you on a day to day basis or a week to week basis, how often are you reviewing those? How do you build those into the actual workflow so that you’re saying no to the right things and getting better at not letting this happen, where you end up fitting up with everything?

David Allen:
I don’t have a system for that other than paying attention to what has my attention. And what do I need to do to get that off my mind? And many times, it’s been I’m just kind of running fast to catch up with the visions that I’ve had and completing a lot of that, and I only need to rethink it if there’s a reason to rethink it. And again, I’ll be 75 in a couple of months, so I’ve got a lot of miles on my tires where I’ve done a lot of that kind of work over the years to help clarify that, get clear about what I wanted, writing out my ideal scenes. My wife and I still write ideal scenes. We’re looking for some property right now, and sitting down an go, “Okay, what would our ideal really be and what would it look like?” And so thinking about those kinds of things, it just became part of my cognitive style.

David Allen:
I learned about affirmations back in 1980, 1979, 1980, the power of affirmations, and I’ve used those ever since. I mean, how many years is that? What? 40 years? So, I’ve had a set of affirmations and just thinking affirmationally. After a while, that just became, “Hey, how would I like to feel this afternoon? How would I like to feel at the end of this keynote speech?” The first thing I wrote when I wrote Getting Things Done were the reviews.

Arthur Worsley:
When you say the reviews, you mean?

David Allen:
I wrote the ideal reviews of the book.

Arthur Worsley:
Oh, yeah, okay. Yeah. You did that after or before you started?

David Allen:
Before I started.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, that’s great. I love that.

David Allen:
That’s the first thing I did. And the bad news about that was it raised the bar so high, the first draft didn’t work. So, I just threw it away. I took a year to write the first draft, and it didn’t cut it-

Arthur Worsley:
That so interesting.

David Allen:
… and I just threw it away and started again. It took another year to write the first draft again.

Arthur Worsley:
I’m curious, because the book reads like… like all great books, it looks easy. It’s like when you watch the Olympic athletes, you sit you’re like, “Oh, he must have just knocked this out in a couple of days, it’s clearly thought through.” But was it a super long drawn out process? Did it take years and years? Did you start penning ideas for the book five years earlier or what kicked it off and why did you decide to write the book in the first place?

David Allen:
Yeah. Well, I pulled the trigger on it in 1997 when I moved it from someday maybe to a real project, I’ll write the book. I just had some good advisors say, “David, come on, it’s time for you to write the manual.” I said, “Okay, how do I do that?” So, it took a year to figure out how to do that. And basically, I read three or four books about how do you sell a book? How do you do that? Do you get an agent? Do you go right to a publisher? What is it? And I got some good advice from people in the industry and wound up getting a great agent. It’s a pretty strenuous process to write a business plan for the book because publishers just don’t do this stuff on a whim. And I didn’t even think much about self-publishing. I think that was a possibility back then, but if the topic was good enough that a big publisher would potentially like it or buy into it, then you can’t beat that in terms of the reach in terms of what it would do.

David Allen:
So anyway, that took a year to get the deal to write the outline for the book. And by that time, I’d accumulated quite a bit of content for that, but then it took the next year to write the first draft, and as I said, it didn’t work. Oh, damn. So, I just started again, and then it took another year to write the next draft. The fourth year was finally to get the title for the book. I mean, I’ve got about 800 used titles, I’ll send you real cheap, that I was like, “What do you title this thing?”

Arthur Worsley:
Have you got a second-best title or a second or third best title?

David Allen:
We actually played with Zen and the Art of In-basket Maintenance. That was a little too cheesy. I don’t remember all the stuff that we came up with. But we were targeting it back then, and then it wound up getting published first week really of 2001. So, it took four years, really.

Arthur Worsley:
Wow, four years. That, again, is one of those things that people don’t really get, is how long it takes to put a project like that into place. And like you said, I mean, how many years of coaching was it before you were even ready to write the book?

David Allen:
And believe it or not, it took me a long time to learn that if I had a breakfast meeting with a client, and stood up and did a full-day seminar, and then had drinks with the client afterwards, and then got on a plane telling myself that I was going to write the next chapter was like, “Who are you kidding?” So, the stress that that produced. It was funny. I almost became an alcoholic writing a book about stress-free productivity. It’s like, “Oh, my God.” For me to realize it, it took at least four hours, I needed at least for our space where I didn’t have anything else to do, otherwise, I would step on my own toes when I tried to write anything else and to get back into the flow of what was going on. So, that took a long time.

David Allen:
One of the coolest things I did that helped a lot. A Penguin, Viking, it was a subset of Penguin, they did copy editing, and I said, “Okay, copy editing? Aren’t they going to lose the voice of whatever this was.” And it turned out that the copy editor was great, and it didn’t lose the voice, it actually enhanced my voice. As I say it’s like she gave it a bath, because I wound up saying something that took like 25 words to say, and then she shrunk it down to about 12 words that said what I was trying to say better than I was trying to say it. So, I got so enthralled by that. What I did was I retyped the whole book with copy edits so that I could learn to think like a copy editor. And that has made a difference ever since in terms of my writing.

Arthur Worsley:
That’s so interesting. There’s a lot of people who recommend that. Some great copywriting courses and, in fact, most copywriting mentors, they talk about… And even William Zinsser, he talks about finding beautiful passages that you love and just copying them out by hand as an amazing way to strengthen your writing. And I imagine what is your own thinking that’s been strengthened, you just then internalize all those sound bites and you’re able to communicate them much more succinctly than maybe it was possible before.

David Allen:
Yeah. Mostly, it expanded by shrinking, in other words. It’s a funny thing because even in all the seminars and training that I’ve done, every time I try to make it shorter, it gets longer, because when you make it shorter, you get more to the essence, and once you tap into the essence, it just expands your creativity like crazy about that. So, I think there’s a physics thing. The more you compress it, the more power it gets, in a way. So, learning to write in a compressed way. Is there an easier, faster, simpler way to say what I’m trying to say? Because I can get wordy and mental as well as anybody about that if I don’t watch it, and it’s really nice to coach myself in that way and that kind of stuff.

Arthur Worsley:
It took me, I think, at least 10 years to reverse the damage that college did to me, where my tutor would say, “I want a 3,000-word essay on this,” and I would turn three bullet points into 3,000 words and be super pleased with myself. And because it was academics, I’d get a great mark for it. And then when I went out into the real world, people were like, “No, you need to do the opposite. How can you turn 3,000 words into three bullets, and then write another 30 bullets?” And I was like, “Ah.” So, I share your pain. I know what that’s like. Omit needless words, as the old adage goes.

Arthur Worsley:
I’m conscious of time and I want to ask… there are 1,000 things I want to ask, but I want to ask one specific question because I know people will kill me if I don’t ask it. Which is, there’s a great meme out there of a guy, he finds a treasure chest… I don’t know if you’ve seen it… and he’s like, “This is it. This is the answer to why GTD keeps failing me.” And then he opens the scroll, and it says, “You keep missing your weekly review.”

Arthur Worsley:
And that’s like the essence of why most people fall off the wagon. If you don’t do the weekly review, you don’t trust the system. If you don’t trust the system, the system falls apart. But for so many people, they’re like, “Oh, man, I tried to do my weekly review, it took me two days. I tried to do my weekly review, it took me one day.” I’m sure you’ve seen that a lot, a lot. Do you, A, have any advice, or B, have any tricks for reducing the load of the weekly review so it’s not such a beast at the end of each week?

David Allen:
Well, the more regularly you do it, the faster you get at doing it.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, so just practice.

David Allen:
Well, and the more also that you just work the practice during the week, you don’t let a lot of dross sort of mount up on you. And a lot of people are trying to use the weekly review as a way to clean up their email. A good friend of mine, cleans up everything and gets all his in-baskets to zero on Thursday night, so that Friday morning, when he does his weekly review, it’s a real review not just catch up. So, those are some of the tricks. And having it at the same time and the same place, there’s a part of us that loves habits in that way. I’ve got good classical music that I turn on to Spotify when I’m doing the weekly review. Not very loud, but it’s kind of Baroque stuff in the background and things like that. And that kind of gets me into that modality, it gets me into sort of executive thinking about myself.

David Allen:
And the weekly review, as you know, is a very creative time. It’s not just a static catch up. And a lot of people tried to do that, and therefore, it’s not that inspiring to them and so they let it slide. And again, you can’t let it slide. I like to use the analogy that if you like a particular sport, any particular team sport, like soccer, for instance, or football as they call it over here, how much of the week do you think they spend preparing and reviewing and getting ready for their work? Try five days out of six, right? And most people won’t even spend five minutes a day trying to get their day together. So, how much time do you think it’s worth? And by the way, if you did nothing but review for seven hours, your eighth hour is going to be hot, right? As opposed to just being busy out there.

David Allen:
So, the weekly review is… Well, the late great Peter Drucker would tell everybody, it’s like your biggest job is defining what your work is, and it takes time to define your work. It takes an hour a day just to define the work that’s coming at you, both internally generated and externally received, and then it’s going to take at least a couple hours a week to define your work from a little higher level and altitude and perspective. And I wish I had the magic pill that would inspire people to do the weekly review, but it is the universal habit that’s the hardest probably to do in GTD, to get yourself to do it.

Arthur Worsley:
For sure.

David Allen:
It’s kind of one of those things like planning when you least feel like planning is when you most need to do it, and when you least feel like you have time to do the weekly review is when you absolutely should be doing it. So, it’s kind of one of those little paradoxical things.

Arthur Worsley:
That’s interesting. So, I had three main things. The first is, practice. If you do it lots, you just get better at it. The second is interspersing, little clearing sessions before the weekly review so that it’s not six days of stuff, then we put everything on one day clearing it out. And then the third one has totally gone out of my head, which was –

David Allen:
Create a context.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, I think the context, but I think also actually the mindset around it, which is that I think a lot of people see the weekly review as some extra thing they have to do in their week instead of an integral part of their week. Some people will be like, “Okay, well, I already had five days worth of stuff. Now, how do I have to do the weekly review on day six?” When actually the weekly review is probably day one of day five, and even if you lose one day of work because you’ve planned your stuff, the other four days are going to be much more effective than if you didn’t do it. So, it’s a shift in mindset towards planning as an essential part of execution rather than simply a nice added bonus that they don’t have to do.

David Allen:
Well said.

Arthur Worsley:
I think the cue on the habits, same time, same place is definitely key. I also often recommend to my clients, so I add what I call an end of work shutdown, which is kind of like a mini clearing of your inboxes, where you just prioritize your major inboxes, and at the end of each day before you do your evening planning, or I do mine at 12 o’clock, because that’s when I finish work, I just get through as many of those inboxes as I can. I set a time limit of 30 minutes, and I just go through as much as I can. And what I find is that that’s the difference between my weekly review taking six hours, when I do it, or it taking two hours and being mostly about exciting planning for next week and not so much about clearing inboxes and moving stuff and moving boxes.

David Allen:
Indeed.

Arthur Worsley:
But yeah, that’s really, really helpful.

Arthur Worsley:
So, I’m curious, just in our last few minutes, there are three things I would love to know. The first is like a super snapshot of… because everyone will want to know what tools does David Allen use? I have long since learned that tools actually get in the way of GTD most of the time rather than improving it, but people want to know, what do you use? How do you do your quick capture on your phone? What system do you use on your computer? Do you even use a computer? Are you still using a labeller and a 43 physical file system? So, a few minutes on that, I would love. And then I would love to talk a little bit about what you’re working on now. And also, if people have enjoyed this interview, and they’ve enjoyed your book, and they’ve maybe read it or they’ve just read the summary, where should they go next and what are the next steps? So, tools, what are you excited about that you are working on now, and where can they go to find more information?

David Allen:
Tools. Well, what I’ve used mostly for my organizational tool, we still are using what was used to be Lotus Notes, then IBM Notes, and then HCl bought it. So, we still use that though we are in the process of migrating to Microsoft 365, so we’re going to make a transition over to that. Som, that’s a whole process. I’ve got a good consultant that’s going to help me walk through that.

Arthur Worsley:
Can I share quickly? When I arrived at McKinsey, I could not believe they were still using Lotus Notes. When I first logged in, I was like, “What even is Lotus Notes?” It’s so archaic, but McKinsey still uses it as their main thing. Anyways, so Lotus Notes but you’re moving to Office 365.

David Allen:
Well, most people just never learned how to use Lotus Notes. It’s still much more sophisticated than anything out there.

Arthur Worsley:
It’s super powerful, yeah.

David Allen:
Oh, yeah. Incredible. Anyway. And my consultant, good friend of mine, who was my CTO for about 10 years, designed something called E-Productivity, which is an overlay on Notes that really sort of matches the GTD process a lot easier. They’re all just list managers, if you will. And I still use Evernote just for static reference material and checklists and things like that. I use the Microsoft suite, PowerPoint, Word and Excel, those are typical stuff. I use that Snagit a lot to capture stuff, screens captures.

Arthur Worsley:
If you’re out at a restaurant and someone recommends a book to you, how do you capture that?

David Allen:
The way I’ve done it for 30 years, which is… [pulls out a little notebook].

Arthur Worsley:
On paper. That’s awesome.

David Allen:
Absolutely.

Arthur Worsley:
So, you just get it out and just write it down.

David Allen:
No battery, no WiFi, and it’s right there. No clicks. So, 98% of my capture is low tech. Right at my desk where I work, this [shows a paper pad] is right here all the time, because many times I think of something while I’m doing something else and I need instantly to be able to offload that. And my physical in-tray. So, low tech is my capture. I do have a capture on my iPhone. A couple of GTD-ers in Amsterdam designed a really neat capture tool. It’s called Braintoss. The reason it’s really neat is because instead of going into a black hole on the phone, if I record it there, it’s programmed to instantly send it to my email, either a picture, a voice, or text, however I want to capture it. But I still barely even use that because it takes two clicks to turn it on. I’m like, “Why? Why should I do that?” Tech is fine if you’re really used to using it and you empty the in-basket wherever you throw the stuff in there. For a lot of people, it’s just a black hole, and so it stinks, and it starts to smoking, and just, yuck.

Arthur Worsley:
My least favorite thing of McKinsey was when you would walk into a client and they would say, “Oh, we’ve got this big issue, but don’t worry, we’re about to install a new piece of software and it will solve everything.” And I’d be like, “Ugh.” Tech speeds stuff up, it doesn’t solve problems. If you can’t do it on paper, it’s not going to work, right?

David Allen:
True.

Arthur Worsley:
And then tech is a good way to automate a paper system. So, I think it’s good that you’re still on the paper. That’s awesome.

David Allen:
Absolutely. What else did you ask? Oh, labeller. Yes, I’m still using a labeller. I’m not using the Brother anymore. I found the DYMO plug and play, is great because you don’t need to install software, you can plug it into a Mac, you can plug it into your PC, it doesn’t matter. Easy to type, print out, one label a time, click. So, I’m still using that. I’m not using the physical 43 folders. I probably would if it were easy to find file folders and a file cabinet that worked. But in Europe, it’s awful. You can’t find anything like that. Actually, this particular function, I use in the E-Productivity that Eric designed for me. So, I just put stuff in there and it just has a date stamp on it. But I also can see all of that stuff coming toward me if I want to open up my tickler file, I’ll see it all, so it’s not like I only see it on some future date. So, that works.

Arthur Worsley:
So, Lotus Notes, are you using it for email as well?

David Allen:
Yeah.

Arthur Worsley:
So, for people who don’t know what Lotus Notes is, imagine it’s like Outlook but on steroids, like almost Outlook combined with Evernote, and you can build custom applications on it. So, you’re doing your email and your next actions list and things like that within Lotus, then you’re doing quick capture on paper, and also with the… What was the name of the app that you’re using that people in Amsterdam built for quick capture?

David Allen:
Braintoss.

Arthur Worsley:
Braintoss for that, and then you’re also using your old 43 folders, and then you’re using Evernote for your reference file system. What about do you write the visions areas down? When you talk about the six different horizons, are you writing your mission down and things like that? Do you keep that in Evernote as well or is that in a different-

David Allen:
Yeah. Actually, I’m using MindManager, so I use a mind mapping program that has a lot of that stuff.

Arthur Worsley:
Cool. Any other tools that you couldn’t be without or that you recommend?

David Allen:
Couldn’t be without, couldn’t be without. Some of them have just become so ubiquitously available to me. Well, obviously, my several in-baskets that hold like pending and support materials that tie to the things that are trapped in my digital world. So, those are absolutely critical. But I have an iPhone, an iPad, and a 16 inch Mac.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. Are you using an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil?

David Allen:
Not with a pencil, no.

Arthur Worsley:
That’s game-changing. That, for me, was the moment I got rid of paper. It’s absolutely amazing.

David Allen:
Really?

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. Honestly, I looked for a long time. You know when they had the old iPads and Griffin tried to bring out the old styluses, and I tried to get rid of it but I just could not get rid of paper. I just had to have paper, it’s just how I think. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s worth nipping into a store, but with the Apple Pencil, it’s just… And I use Notability as my app, and I can send everything quickly to Evernote. I don’t use Evernote, I use Dropbox, but you can send everything quickly, and so it’s just a really great way to capture thoughts by hand.

David Allen:
We use Dropbox. I use Dropbox a lot too.

Arthur Worsley:
Dropbox is great. A conversation for another day is mapping out your system.

Arthur Worsley:
If people are curious… So, GTD has obviously been a huge part of your life I’m sure as everyone knows. Are you working on something different now or are you kind of bedding GTD down? Is that what you plan to work on for the next 10, 15, 20 years or what’s in your mind at the moment?

David Allen:
Well, a lot of what we’ve done since we built a global licensee network is supporting those licensees. Before the pandemic, I was doing maybe a keynote a month, whatever, all over the world, whoever kind of wanted me to come and do that and wanted to pay for it. But for the most part, all the training and coaching is being done now with our master trainers and our master coaches. And we certify those, so we still maintain the accountability to certified master trainers and maintain a community of practice for that. Great set of folks. I think we have about 35 master trainers now around the world and are licensed-

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah, I was looking. Even Indonesia. I’m in Bali and I was on the GTD website looking where you had training, and I was like, “Wow, you can get GTD training in Indonesia.” That’s pretty cool.

David Allen:
Yeah, we have a great trainer in Brunei that’s kind of covering that too. So, it’s a great network of folks. We are actually officially represented in 90 countries. Now, there’s not a trainer in every country, and a lot of those are just small countries that are part of a larger region that somebody has a license for.

David Allen:
So, a lot of what I’ve been doing for the last two years is supporting our new licensees. Once they get their feet on the ground with it, then I show up. Because as you probably know, there are a lot of GTD pirates out there, and so making sure that they have the imprimatur called, these are the people that have our stuff, we have trained them, we absolutely trust what they do and how they do it. And then I show up and do press and so forth. So, just in the last year or so, I’ve been to Moscow, I’ve been to Tel Aviv, I’ve been to Oslo, I’ve been to London, I’ve been to Australia, so kind of banging around.

David Allen:
And a lot of what we’re doing, my wife, Kathryn, still does a lot of the sort of final fine-tuning of our training materials and coaching materials in print. So, making sure that we’ve got the graphics, making sure we have an appropriate brand document that people pay attention to that, making sure our website is sort of reflective of what we’re doing. So, we’ve shrunk really, from 50 people to five really, because once we found a partner in the US, VitalSmarts, great partner, that does training in the US and Canada for GTD, and we have a partner GTD Focus that does our senior coaching in the US and Canada. Once we set that up, then we didn’t need to maintain the overhead of training and coaching there. So, we became pretty much an IP licensing company and supporting all of that, as well as our own GTD connect and our digital products and sort of memberships there. So, that’s kind of shrunk the business so we could expand the business in terms of just reach out there.

Arthur Worsley:
I mean, obviously, there are always more things to do in a day than you’ll ever have time to get around to, even if you have GTD and even if you triage Well. Have you got any sort of plans to write something on the more spiritual side or to get back to your history roots or anything in the next few years?

David Allen:
Not so much. There are really some unsung heroes as part of even GTD that could probably use a book or a manual, like the natural planning model, for instance, is this real sleeper. Very few people really have utilized that, and it’s a phenomenal tool. And so creating a handbook for that or some sort of a guide using that would be a really neat thing. I’m talking to my editor about the possibilities of that. And also, GTD and corporate organizational culture is also a topic that could use, whether it’s a whole book or not, I’m not sure, but we now have enough miles on our tires and enough people doing good GTD work in organizations of all sizes out there. Because people often say, “Well, how does GTD work for teams? How does it work in a culture?” And it’s a topic to explore, because it’s subtle, how it works. It works. It’s incredible. Once you get a whole group of people that kind of get this, it just moves you up the food chain quite a bit as an organization.

Arthur Worsley:
Sorry. Go ahead.

David Allen:
Yeah. And those, I’ll probably be co-authoring with a couple of our master trainers out there that have a lot of experience in that regard.

David Allen:
Otherwise, I picked up the flute again, I taught myself to play it 30 years ago, and then I dropped it off and it got stolen, and I didn’t replace it. And then about a year ago, I said, “I should keep doing that.” Then I started doing acrylic painting as well. So, those are things that sort of keep me involved and keep my creative energy still going. And I am still doing a bit of writing and two or three interviews and podcasts like this a week still.

Arthur Worsley:
Well, thank you. I mean, it’s amazing that you’re so generous with your time to chat. I mean, it’s been such an honor to get to talk to you. Like I said, before we started recording, I sent a message out to my email subscribers, and I said, “David has agreed to do a podcast, an interview,” and at least one of them came back with the words “living legend” in it, and I was inundated with questions.

Arthur Worsley:
And people who’ve found your work have a very similar experience to me, where for a lot of people, it’s a watershed moment in their careers, in their lives, and has impact then, not just on their work, but on how their relationships work, and how they feel about themselves, and how they perceive themselves as someone who is productive, or even their ability to think of themselves as creative people. A lot of people who get so bogged down in the doing stuff suddenly get it all sorted out, and they are like, “Wow, now I can be a creative person.” So, I think it’s an amazing thing that you’ve created and it’s helped millions of people.

David Allen:
Well, thanks. Yay. I’ve been very graced to have stumbled upon something. I paid my dues. It took me a long time to try to figure out what I was going to do in my life and work. So, wonderful to have come across something that doesn’t hurt, improves anybody’s condition, no matter how much of it they use, and improves the planet. And our mission and my mission is to create a world where there are no problems, only projects. I’m probably not going to see that happen. Maybe I’ve got another 20 years on my tires, who knows. But as long as I’m doing anything in that regard, I’m on course.

Arthur Worsley:
I love that. It’s a very clear mission and also a very powerful one, I think, and something that other people can get behind.

Arthur Worsley:
If people are excited by what they’ve heard today, if they’ve read your book, if they’re big fans like me, if they’re interested in some of the next projects that you’re talking about, I think the natural planning models, and one of those amazing gold nuggets that you probably only get the second or third time you read the book, you realize how important, where should they go? I guess there’s the GTD organization, and then there’s you personally, what are the two ways they should find you?

David Allen:
Yeah. Well, the GTD organization and me basically just go to gettingthingsdone.com, that’s our website. And if you go under training and coaching, you can type in whatever country you live in and you’ll see whoever the local trainers and coaches are that deliver training and coaching for GTD, public seminars, as well as in-house seminars, and private coaching, and virtual coaching too. So, a lot of that’s going on these days, and the virtual stuff. And it turned out good timing for us, in the last two or three years, we’ve been working on virtual versions of Getting Things Done training, so when corona hit, a lot of our licensees had to rapidly sort of make sure they got up to speed doing that. But that’s working, and so, yay.

David Allen:
So, that’s how you can get in touch, and obviously, read the book again, if you got it. If you haven’t read the book, get it.

Arthur Worsley:
Yeah. If you’re watching this video and you haven’t read the book, I always say there are only two good ways to use book summaries. The first is as a preview to decide if you want to read a book, and the second is to recap the main points of a book that you’ve already read. There is no substitute for reading the original book. And in the case of David’s book, like I said, I think I summarized it on the fifth or sixth time that I read it. So, it’s definitely worth reading more than once.

David Allen:
Also, if you haven’t read the book yet or if you’re fairly new to GTD and really want to know how to get started, one of the things we wrote last year was the Getting Things Done Workbook as a way to simplify all of that. Just 10 steps to walk yourself through, and it’s actually set up with a workbook with QR codes, where you click on it, you see me talk about whatever the thing is a little bit. And we did that because, quite frankly, the book itself can be a bit overwhelming when you pick it up. I’m not a very good trainer. I don’t have the patience to do that, but we’ve had good instructional designers coach us a lot and give us a lot of great advice about how to, not to denigrate the methodology, but to simplify its application and its engagement for people, so to kind of lower the barrier of entry for people to get involved.

Arthur Worsley:
And where can people find that? Is that on the website or will they find that in bookstores?

David Allen:
You can find it wherever English books are sold.

Arthur Worsley:
Cool. So, it’s a book, it’s physical?

David Allen:
Yeah, it’s a physical book. Yeah. I know it’s in Dutch over here, so I don’t know. Just check and see. Check Amazon or wherever your bookstore is if you’re reading English.

Arthur Worsley:
That’s great. And it’s called the…

David Allen:
Getting Things Done Workbook.

Arthur Worsley:
Okay, cool. Awesome. I’ll check that out. It’s always good to have a backup. Yeah, that’s it. Honestly, thank you once again. Super interesting. Really interesting to get, for me, as someone who’s interested to understand where it came from, and also as someone who’s, I wouldn’t say… I’ve certainly never created anything that’s as fundamental as what you created, but in the sense of helping people on how to learn and how to… A lot of people ask me, “How do you get better at productivity?” And I think your story around just being around productive people, and making it part of what you do, and getting a job where you learn a skill, learn an interesting thing to do, and then building on the things you’re interested about, there are a lot of valuable lessons to be extracted. So, thank you for making the time.

David Allen:
Sure. My pleasure, Arthur. It was fun.

Arthur Worsley:
No worries. Take care, David!

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Arthur Worsley
Arthur Worsley
Arthur is a thinker and writer who helps people who want more from their lives learn to be more productive, find more balance and live life more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →

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