Richard speaks to David Allen, author, speaker and coach and creator of ‘Getting Things Done’, a tool to improve productivity and overcome procrastination, about how he came up with GTD and how to make the most of the system.
An Interview with David Allen
What is the Getting Things Done (GTD) Methodology?
David explains that GTD is best practices that are simple to do, but don’t happen automatically. Learning to do them consistently creates a sense of control, focus, and creates more cognitive space to focus on what’s important.
It’s simple actions such as writing stuff down, deciding next actions and reviewing your lists. The key is to create an external brain to externalise all the things we spend too much time thinking about. It also helps people get over procrastination.
One GTD Activity Everyone Should Try
David suggests asking yourself what’s on your mind and taking your attention. Make a list of those things, then ask yourself what next action you would take to get closure on them?
Writing down your answers will help you focus, gain control and work out what to do. The key is to know what has your attention and what, if anything you can do about it. Working out what we want to accomplish and how is a habit we need to train ourselves to do.
To do this requires two different parts of the brain, and we’re not born with the habit of using our brains to make these decisions. Once you’ve trained yourself to do it, you will become more productive.
How David Developed the GTD Methodology
A mentor of David’s introduced him to the concept of ‘get it out of your head, decide next action process’, which he found was vital to clearing the decks and making change possible.
After trying the process himself, David realised that it was a powerful tool he could share with others. He became aware of how unclear his head was and how to fix that. He began to use it with his clients as well as for himself.
He says that the best way to build a habit is to teach it, and was asked by a senior manager at Lockheed to deliver the system to their staff. Being able to demonstrate that you do what you talk about helps people to understand it.
Who the GTD System is for
The GTD system is used by people from all sectors and industries. While it’s used a lot in the IT world, many creatives like to use it too. David explains: “It’s a very flexible, open system, and you don’t have to do things in a certain way.
Some basic principles are inviolate, and if something’s in your head, it’s in the wrong place, so you have to get it out. But, how you get it out of your head is totally up to you, and there all kinds of ways to do it.”
How GTD fits in with Mindfulness
People talk about emotional intelligence and this is mental intelligence. A lot of mindfulness is about how to train your attention so that you can train yourself to keep your focus on something.
Mindfulness is about stopping one aspect of the world so that you can pay attention to the subtler ones. Cognitive scientists have found that your brain needs rest, and you have to sleep on a project so that your unconscious can untie the knots and bypass your cognitive conditioning.
It’s not necessarily about being organised, but about not being distracted by anything, and having the ability to be able to focus appropriately on the task at hand. Have a clear desk and, where possible, an empty to-do tray and inbox.
The ‘Someday, Maybe’ List
It’s important to make a distinction to between projects, activities or things you would potentially like to do but it’s not the right time for them. However, you don’t want to lose the idea.
It’s a very creative process, and it’s about being able to have a list where you put down things you might want to do one day, with a client or for yourself. Give yourself permission to have the idea but leave it. Don’t assign it next actions, but review it every so often to see if you’re ready to work on it.
Mentioned in This Episode
- David’s website: Getting Things Done
- Useful tools from Microsoft
- Note-taking tool: Evernote
- Screen capture tool: Snagit
- David’s Amazon page
- Intelligent note-taking and file management: TheBrain
- The GTD Summit
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