If you’re in college, finding time to get things done is a big challenge. If you’re struggling with a subject, getting a private tutor will help. But sometimes, our worst enemy is actually learning how to manage ourselves – our time, out attention, our money, and what we choose to spend time thinking about and doing.
In this video, David Allen, the originator of the “GTD” methodology, or Get Things Done has some really good study tips. These productivity tips are very helpful for anyone, but especially for those in college.
And below you can find the transcript:
Narrator: David Allen is an author, consultant, international lecturer, and founder of the David Allen Company. He is widely recognized as the world’s leading authority on personal and organizational productivity. His 30 years of pioneering research, coaching, and educating some of the world’s highest performing professionals, corporations, and institutions has earned him Forbes’s recognition as one of the top five executive coaches in the United States, and as one of the 100 top leaders by Leadership Magazine. Fast Company hailed David Allen 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. Time Magazine labeled his first book, “Getting Things Done”, as the defining self-help book of the decade. Please welcome, to elevate 2015, David Allen.
David Allen: Hi, everyone. My name is David Allen. I’m the author of the bestselling book ‘Getting Things Done’ and the engineer of the methodology I described in that book known now around the world as GTD. I’m going to take just a few minutes and give you a quick overview of the basics of ‘Getting Things Done’ and why it’s so important these days both personally and organizationally. We’re living in, obviously, a busy, busy world, a busy time. And people often ask, “What’s new these days in terms of productivity and all this stuff going on social media and the digital world?” My answer is pretty simple, “There’s nothing new except how frequently things are new.” Why you’re even listening or watching to this? There are probably inputs showing up in your world, any one of which could potentially…it could blow the heck out of what you think your priorities are for the rest of the day.
So in that kind of world, how do you manage this? Because it doesn’t show up in pretty, neat little packages, if you haven’t noticed. It shows up pretty much like this, in all different kinds of ways, in all different forms. During any 10 minutes segment, you may get a phone call from a client, you may get a text from your sister, you may suddenly notice that your printer is out of paper, you suddenly decide that you want to go visit with a staff person. Who knows? All of that can happen in a very few minutes, very quickly. So how do you surf on top of that? You could either have that overwhelm you, and a lot of people are feeling that way. Or you can surf on top of it. Let me give you this simple answer about how to surf up on top of it. And this is the two-minute version, essentially, of the ‘Getting Things Done’ methodology.
First of all, any potentially meaningful thing, you need to make you’ve captured, out of your head in some trusted place. And sooner than later, you need to clarify what you’re going to do about each one of those things, if anything, exactly. You’ll then need to organize the results of that thinking into functional categories or reminders which you step back and reflect on with some consistency. Keeping an overview of all of the commitments that you have at all different levels, from the big goals and visions and ideal scenes that you have, all the way down to all of the actions that you need to take and all the different kinds of things on your calendar, etc. You then need to make trusted choices about what you do by being able to see that whole overview in a minute-to-minute, day-to-day basis.
Now that’s a pretty simple way to describe something that can actually be quite sophisticated and complex, in terms of how you actually manage that. But if you do that and if you do that well, then you get to experience what I, a steal from the martial arts, a concept of mind like water. What does that mean? Well, water responds to its world totally appropriately. It doesn’t overreact. It doesn’t under-react. It could be rushing or it could be still, but it’s not confused about what to do. So the analogy there or the metaphor there is your head needs to not to take one meeting into the next, not take home to work or work to home. And most people are quite under or overreacting to a lot of the world because their head is not that clear. What you don’t need is more time. Most people think they need more time to deal with that world. But the truth is, there’s 24 hours, that’s it. Da Vinci had 24 hours. Mother Theresa had 24 hours. We’ve all got 24 hours.
What people really need is space. They need room. Room to be more creative. Room in your head to be doing more strategic thinking instead of just reacting. Room to simply be present with your kids, or with your staff, or with a project, or with whatever you’re doing. So that’s the kind of space that I’m talking about. It’s getting that kind of room because that happens to be the most productive state to operate from. And wouldn’t it be nice if you also had a simple system and methodology that could do that, but also was complex enough to deal with the complexity of your world. Well, GTD actually delivers on that. It’s really the art and the craft of how you manage the flow of life’s work. And that’s not going to stop. This is actually a lifelong lifestyle plus practice set. And it will continue. I’m still a fellow student of all of this. As your world gets complex and sophisticated and subtle, then your system also needs to be able keep up with that. And the GTD methodology was designed to do just that. Essentially, you all do most of the behaviors and you all know really what these behaviors are that let you surf on top of your world and feel more in control. A very simple example is if you’ve ever taken work at home that you had to bring back the next day, I mean, don’t forget it. And where did you park that the night before? What strategies did you employ to make sure that your brain didn’t have to keep hanging on to that, and you would actually to keep your commitment with doing what you need to do?
Well, if you’re like me, you’ll probably, from time to time, put things in front of the door. Well, that’s pretty sophisticated. Actually, it is pretty sophisticated, because the night before, some part of you probably was smart enough to realize that what’s going to try to go through the door in the morning may not be very conscious at all. So, ‘Hey, I get to do a systematic process that places something in an appropriate place so I get to see it at the right time and place. And my brain can then let it go.’. So as simple as that idea is, then the real challenge becomes well, what are you putting in front of what door? So this is the door of your mind, not the door of your house. But what are you doing to be able to oversee everything you need to do at the right time and place, and essentially give your brain the job of making choices but not trying to remember and remind? It does not do that very well. Consequently, by the way, this whole methodology, it is a set of thinking processes, and a set of practices for achieving and maintaining appropriate engagement with your world. And there’s a lot to unpack about that idea of appropriate engagement. But are you appropriately engaged with your strategic plan, appropriately engaged with your job, appropriately engaged with your own health and your family, your staff, etc? So appropriate engagement is really what you’re after. And this set of behaviors is what actually produces that. And it will do that no matter what. That’s the great idea about this is the methodology will follow you wherever you go, no matter how things might change in your life, and your job, and in your lifestyle situation.
Essentially, there are five steps with how you get anything under control, whether that’s your kitchen or your company. And you go through these five steps. I didn’t make this up but I did recognize them and recognized that each one of these steps has its own worst and best practices. And frankly, its own tools and techniques to be able to use them in an appropriate way to get you appropriately engaged with whatever it is that’s on your mind. The five steps are quite simple: to capture what has your attention, clarify sooner than later what it means, organize it, park it in some appropriate place so you can see it appropriately when you reflect on, essentially, the whole inventory of what your commitments are. So that then when you engage, that is, where you put your attention, put your focus, where you put your activity, it’s from a trusted place. Not from, ‘Gee, I hope this is what I need to be doing.’. So let me go through each one of these in a little more detail.
Capture. What does that mean? It just means look, what’s got your attention right now? If I were to work with you one on one deskside, and I spent thousands of hours, trust me, doing that was some of the best and brightest and busiest people on the planet, the first thing we’re going to do is see, well, what’s got your attention? What’s not on cruise control? What’s sort of banging around in your head? First of all, we look around your environment to see what doesn’t belong there permanently, because those things probably reflect something that you’ve got some commitment about. And it’s essentially, psychologically yelling at you or talking to you, ‘Do something with me. Decide something with me. Or whatever. Stop sitting on your desk, around your desk, in your desk, in your briefcase’s pockets, purse’s, packs.’ Anything that doesn’t belong there permanently probably represents something that has your attention.
So we would gather all that and then empty your head, essentially of anything else on your mind that may not be on this stack that we have there yet. “Oh yeah, I need to get a new light bulb.”, “Oh yeah, I need to call my brother.”, “Oh, that’s right. I was just given this big task by my boss.” etc. So we would grab all of that. And that can take quite a while. Most professionals and executives that I work with, that can take anywhere from one to three or four hours, just to gather, not to even decide anything about them but just to identify those things that are taking up space in their psyche, in their head. So if you wanted to play with this, just for a minute or two, if you have a pen and a piece of paper right next to you, just take the next 30 seconds and ask yourself, what’s most on your mind? What’s popped into your head, maybe even since you’ve started watching this that has nothing to do with this? Stuff you need to do, stuff you need to handle, stuff you need to think about, stuff that’s kind of in your world and in your head right now, you would need to write that down.
And that’s the kind of stuff that you would want to be able to say, “Okay. I’ve now got everything out of my head that doesn’t belong there permanently and I’ve identified it.” So obviously just paper and pen are some of the best tools that you can use to be able to do that. Now the worst practice of this is just to have stuff that you’ve got somewhere that doesn’t really work very well. And your head is just the worst place to park stuff. Your head is a terrible office. The brains scientists have now pretty much validated the fact that your head’s for having the ideas, but not for holding them. Your brain was designed to recognize patterns, but it was not designed to remember and remind. You can recognize all kinds of very sophisticated, intelligent things if you looked at an map, or you looked at a set of data, but you still forgot where you left your keys. So just the way the brain works, you want to make sure that that stuff gets out of your head. Best practice is simply keep the stuff externalized. And that’s little stuff, personal stuff, professional stuff, big stuff, doesn’t matter. Get it all out of your head. That and in of itself, by the way, will make you feel different if you haven’t done that for a while. That’s a really good thing to do is to collect all those things, because they’re creating, essentially, residue in the psyche and drag on the system.
Now once you’ve written it down, you can’t just leave it there. Otherwise, you’ve got just lists stuck all over the place. What you want to do then is to be able to clean those things up. That means get your in-basket empty. So all of those notes should be thrown into your in-basket or in tray or some collection device. But then, sooner than later, you need to go through that device and clean it up and clarify it. In other words, what exactly are you going to do about those things you wrote down specifically? So what does this stuff mean to me? That’s the very specific thing to ask about each email that you’ve got, each note that you take, your meeting notes, and so forth. What is that? And essentially deciding what it is is a fairly simple algorithm here, but one that many people avoid doing right on the front end. And that makes it much harder for you to gain clarity and space if you haven’t made these decisions. First decision about any email, or piece of paper, or note that you made is ‘What exactly is it?’. Once you decide what that email is, if they’re asking you for something or it’s just information, then you need to decide ‘Look, is it something that I need to move on? Is it an actionable item? Yes or no?’.
Now, you get a lot of stuff in your world that actually has no action, and to decide what those things mean, there are actually three subsets. Obviously, trash that you didn’t need to begin with, or now that you’ve seen it, you don’t need it. There are also things like there’s reference material that you just need to keep. You don’t need to move on it. You just need to be able to have access to it for potentially later on. And then there’s stuff that you need to incubate. You say, “I’m not going to move on yet but I want to reassess this later on.” So those are the three types of things that have no action on them. And it’s nice to make sure you’re clear for about which one those are.
Now if it’s an actionable item, and many things certainly are, things that you are committed to move on, there is a very, very key question and a very, very key concept of the GTD methodology. It’s going to show up in tiny, little type here. But boy, it’s a powerful question: what’s the very, very next action required on anything that you’ve got that is potentially actionable? And that means what’s the very next physical visible activity that you need to engage in? That is basically the email to send, the stuff to buy at the store, the stuff to talk to someone about, the stuff to do at the computer, the physical visible activity. Once you decide that, by the way, there is the possibility of just finishing it right then. The ‘two-minute rule’ has become rather famous about GTD. That is, if something can actually be done in two minutes or less, you just go ahead and do it right then if you’re ever going to do it at all, because it would take more energy to stack it and track it and remind yourself about it later on than to finish it the first time it’s in your face.
So I’ve had a lot of executives tell me just simply the two-minute rule was hugely beneficial to them for the rest of their life once they, if they didn’t have it as a habit already. Now if it takes longer than two minutes to do it, you should then ask yourself, ‘Look, should I be the one to do this?’ And if not, you want to hand it off to the more appropriate person. In other words, delegate it. And if it’s none of those, if it takes longer than two minutes, if it is something you need to do, an action you need to take, and you can’t hand it off to anybody else, then that’s what you need to defer. And that doesn’t mean procrastinate, it just means ‘I need to now park that to my inventory of possible actions that I need to take.’. But then you want to be able to assess that against all the other things that you have to do. So this little clarification map actually can make a huge difference in terms of how do I empty my in basket? How do I make a decision about those emails and all those meeting notes and those inputs that I have?
Now once you’ve made those kinds of decisions, by the way, you also then need to ask yourself, “Are there any projects, any bigger than one action thing, that are embedded in any of these things that I’ve let come into my world?” A project in our broad definition is anything that one action will complete. In which case, you do need to keep track of that because most people have between 30 and a hundred projects. Everything from the next holiday that you’re trying to manage and organize, all the way to the dog. You need to get your kids, the strategic plan you need to implement, to who knows. There’s all kinds of things that could be of a nature of a project. And again, most people have 30 to a hundred of those. That would be a typical inventory that people would have. So these are the kinds of decisions that, actually, there’s no tool for that other than your brain to decide, ‘Okay, what exactly is this thing? What am I going to do about?’.
The big key to getting things done is: ‘what does ‘done’ mean?’. That is, what’s the project, this is complete when what’s true? And what’s the very next action, what does doing look like and where does that happen? Very powerful questions to embed into your work and your life. Example for most people’s to-do list, by the way, happens to be things like this. And you’ll often see that people will if they pull out a to-do list, will have things that are still rather unclear: Mom, bank, Frank Watson, home office, whatever. And these were good capture items, meaning those things probably had their attention. But they still need to make some decisions about those. Because what you don’t really see here is clarity about what the final project is and what the very next action is. So this is the clarification step that needs to happen to the things that you have captured.
So then you have a project called ‘Mom. Give her a birthday party.’. Next action, ‘Call my sister. See what she has about what we should do.’. Ad campaign. Launch the ad campaign. Next action, ‘I need to email Jim.’, etc. So just making that kind of clear distinctions about what you’re going to do about your stuff can make a huge difference in terms of surfing on top of your world. Otherwise, if you’re just looking at that to-do list on the left, it can feel overwhelming because you know there are still decisions and thinking you haven’t finished about each one of those things. So if you’ve written down two or three things a few minutes ago, then that would be a really good thing to do is decide what’s the very next action on each one if those if you haven’t decided that already. And if you have any projects, be they embedded in anything you wrote down or thought about, make sure you capture those. That’s the clarification step.
Now the worst practice there is to wait until the heat or the pressure on the situation forces you to make those decisions. The best practice, of course, is to make those decisions before the heat forces you to. Doesn’t mean you have to take the action or finish the project, but you’re not avoiding it because you’re not sure what to do. So making those decisions on the front end, that’s as the late and great Peter Drucker would challenge everybody as knowledge workers, is your toughest job is actually defining what your job is and what your work is. He didn’t tell you specifically how to do that but the GTD process, that’s what it’s about; is we’re actually defining what done means and what doing looks like. That is, essentially, your work and it’s brought a sense. Now before you get to organize, that’s where the two-minute rule can come into play. I mentioned that before, but again, if you get nothing more out of this little broadcast, and you don’t have the two-minute rule as a habit, start to build that in. It’s amazing how powerful and useful that can be.
Now the things that you can’t finish in two minutes, you then need to organize. And that’s where basically you want to put stuff where it belongs. Organization simply means where you’ve parked or a reminder matches what that means to you. So I have, for instance, a list of phone calls I need to make, have a list of my projects, have a list of things I’m waiting for. And reference material goes where references all goes. In a way, this is an advanced common sense, but most people really don’t have a real clean edge to their different categories in terms of their stuff. Doesn’t have to be that complex. Your organization can be as simple as this. Your actionable items. You need a project list. You also need your actions you need to take, and many of them are on your calendar. But actually, a lot more of them are not calendared items, just actions you need to take in and around your calendar. So your calendar and your next actions basically just hold the actions you need to take that you can’t finish at this very moment. And you need to keep track of the projects and actions other people are doing that you care about. That’s a waiting for list.
So you can have a system as simple as this, in terms of just your action reminders. Now most people have at least 150 to 200 next actions if you actually did the whole inventory of all of your commitments. In which case, you might then find it useful to subset your action reminders in some sub-categories, like stuff to do at home, versus stuff in your office, versus things to do in your computer, etc. The non-actionable items, pretty simple there. Trash, that should be self-evident. Reference could be anywhere. Digital, it could be paper based, you just need to make sure that you haven’t confused reference material with actionable stuff. As long as you have a good library there, we could find wherever you need when you need it. That’s all you need. And ‘Someday/Maybe’, that would be a great list for I’m not sure yet what to do about this. I need to reassess this regularly. ‘Someday/Maybe’ is a great list to have. So you can have a system that simple. The worst practice about all this is to blend those categories. Take something where you haven’t decided what it is and go, “Huh?” and just stack it up along with a lot of other stuff. And as soon as you blend what things mean, and especially with things that have decisions to be made about them, you’ll tend to go numb to the whole thing, and it will feel bad and take up room in your head. Best practice is to make sure you got nice clean and clear categories once you’ve made these decisions.
Then, of course, it’ll still die a slow death on you if you don’t step back and actually use your list or use your categories or use a review of their projects in your calendar. I’m sure you’ve all looked at your calendar recently just to see where you need to be when. And that’s a kind of a review that I’m talking about here. But most of the other things that you need to review are not in your calendar, but you just need to be able to see them. You need to review a list of all the things to go over at your board meeting, you need to see all the things that you need to perhaps handle when you’re at home on the weekend. So that’s what the reflect and review process is, and that can take on multiple levels. You have to be reviewing your life plan, you can be reviewing your strategic goals, you can be reviewing all kinds of things at multiple horizons. You just need to make sure you’re looking at the right thing at the right time with the right people from a higher perspective. So this is basically forest management instead of tree hugging. Worst practice there is just let yourself react to the latest and loudest in terms of how you’re making the decisions and prioritizing. And the best practice is making sure you’re orienting yourself with the content of these multiple horizons that you have. That includes all the way down to the action list that you have. So it’s not just reviewing your strategic plan, it’s also reviewing all the things you need to talk to your boss about, and all the stuff you need to buy at the hardware store. It includes all of those. So having a good system so that it allows you easily to then be able to step back and review all of that. It’s certainly a best practice.
And then step five is basically to make sure you’ve done first to fourth steps appropriately so that you just simply feel comfortable about what you choose to do. And the best practice there is to make sure you’ve done the first four practices, and instead of being caught up in the busy trap and just making sure you’re making good trust in choices given that you’ve looked at the whole inventory of all of your options. So that’s the world you’re in, and there is a way to be able to get to clarity about that. It’s not free but it’s pretty simple. You know how to do all of these. This is not some foreign language or some new technology. These are very common sense and pretty obvious kinds of behaviors and practices. They will get you to mind like water, but you do have to actually apply it. Now the water can feel and look like this sometimes; it does for me. But you’ll notice that good surfers out there on their surfboard, they also have the that little thing called ankle tether. So GTD is sort of like the surfboard that lets you surf on top of the wave instead of feel buried by it but, you know, any good surfer is still going to fall off that board. And people fall off this wagon, the GTD wagon. I do, too, regularly. As a matter of fact, if you’re not getting out of control on some consistent basis, you may not be playing a big enough game. But the idea is that now I have a system and a tool to be able to get me back on the board. So in case I get stressed out, I get overwhelmed, I get confused, I know how to sit down and capture, clarify, organize, step back, and reflect, and get back on the board again.
So why this matters to an organization, and some of you may be interested in that because we’re doing a lot of work in a lot of companies, both small and large, that have recognized these behaviors really are needed in their culture. And some of those basic things are pretty basic. Meaning, there’s a critical work scale about this, that these behaviors are deciding what you need to do about things that land in your world. And that’s a skill set. People know how to do these behaviors, but it’s a skill to make them habitual and to do them in the front end. It’s also a meta-competency, meaning, this is a competency that will increase your ability to engage productively with all the other trainings and all the other initiatives that you have, whether that’s leadership, or presentation skills, or supervisory training, or whatever. This is a competency that will make sure that those appropriate actions and projects and can execute in all of those. And it also keeps the trust contract intact, and that’s a huge issue these days in terms of leadership. Meaning, people keeping their agreements, people making sure that all of this works.
The critical skills? Defining your work is the most critical one in terms of knowledge work. It also gives you the ability to deal with the unexpected. And as you probably know, that’s happening more and more frequently. And the increased responsiveness so that you’re not letting stuff lie fallow. And the nervous system of the organization can get pretty dulled out there if people aren’t responding to things appropriately. And basically changes your reaction to outcome and next action thinking, as opposed to just knee-jerk. So that’s a very, very big shift in terms of the way meetings are run, the way communication is handled, the way all kinds of projects and teams work with each other. The meta-competency actually gives you room to learn. A lot of people complain that they don’t…they went to the class but they don’t have time or room or space to actually implement the good, best practices they learned from other trainings and initiatives. It ensures that they can implement on them, and basically just gives the traction for all of those initiatives and trainings. It also enables you to have ongoing self-mastery because this is a tool set, essentially, that will allow you to keep improving whatever you do and wherever you put your focus and attention. And the Trust Contract, boy, you know? Commitment integrity is a huge issue for a lot of people and organizations and leadership out there these days. It enhances sustainability and engagement, and as I say, it kind of moves your culture up the food chain, which is what happens when a nervous system improves.
So that was a very quick overview. Hopefully, you don’t mind a hitch or two there with the slide. But that’s a quick overview of the GTD methodology and kind of why and where for and the value of it. So if you want to get more information about that, visit me and visit our company, gettingthingsdone.com. Thanks for listening.