David Allen knows time management. In fact, he’s made a career of it. He’s the author of the best-selling book Getting Things Done, and tours the globe teaching others about his methods on how to manage their priorities and actions to achieve what they want out of life. I had the pleasure of talking with David a while ago about his stress-free productivity methodology he coined “GTD.” Time management. Procrastination. As productive human beings, we […]
David Allen knows time management. In fact, he’s made a career of it. He’s the author of the best-selling book Getting Things Done, and tours the globe teaching others about his methods on how to manage their priorities and actions to achieve what they want out of life. I had the pleasure of talking with David a while ago about his stress-free productivity methodology he coined “GTD.”
Time management. Procrastination. As productive human beings, we struggle with both on a daily basis. I recognized that I needed help, so I bought Getting Things Done, and after reading it I asked David to speak candidly with me about his sage advice on:
-eliminating time-stealing distractions
-how avoidance affects success
-how crisis negatively impacts your ability to think intelligently
-how sometimes waiting until the last minute is the best way to get things done
-the importance of emptying your email inbox
-the usefulness of virtual assistants
-how the biggest barriers to self-expression and self-actualization is our own selves
Here’s what I learned:
1. David’s concept of time management
a. We can’t manage time, only what we do during it.
b. We have control over managing our focus, actions, and activities in terms of what
2. How he manages time:
a. There are two parts of the Time Management Equation
i. Be clear about what “done” means. What are you committed to
accomplish and finish within an amount of time? “Done,” however, is not
always a self-evident concept.
ii. Know what “doing” looks like and what actions you need to take from this.
Ex: If launching an ad campaign, is the next step at a computer? A
conversation with your boss?
3. Biggest time stealers
a. Distraction is anything off purpose, off course, off what you should be doing.
b. We tend to avoid doing the most important things because they are the most
daunting, and could have the most impact in changing our lives.
c. Avoiding managing our own commitment steals time. We want to try thousands
of things, so we let our wants pick away at our brain, which prevents us from
taking action and committing to fewer things.
d. We are not clear with what we should be doing. Lack of clarity allows us to be
sucked into doing the most habitual or the latest, wildest or easiest thing to do.
4. Self Actualization=Motivation and Focus
a. “If you allow yourself to be distracted, it’s usually because there’s some part of you that you haven’t fully identified, in some positive successful way, with where you’re going that would cause you to have the focus you need.”
5. Crisis motivation is unsustainable. Solution: Deadlines
a. Crisis creates focus and high performance, but the psychological and physical strain crisis puts on your body is unsustainable and ruins your health long term.
b. Solution: create deadlines for yourself. Deadlines allow you to think ahead and
c. Good vs. Bad Stress. Deadlines can create stress. But you have the power to
make that stress positive.
i. Bad Stress: You think you should be doing something that you’re not, and
wallow in your indecision.
ii. Good Stress: With your limited time, you can challenge yourself to think
up a few more ideas or run a little faster to reach a stretch goal. Good
stress creates growth.
d. If you find yourself with too much bad stress, walk around, do something
physical. Change focus for a bit so you can come back to the problem with a
fresh attitude and perspective.
e. Ask yourself: “what right now, if it were handled, resolved, finished, clarified, or
whatever, would take the biggest pressure off of me?” Then take bold action to handle it. Ex: Have that tough conversation with your boss or loved one to find out what they really think of you.
a. Before: They may make too many commitments that they can’t realistically fulfill,
does someone look like before and after she implements GTD?
and they live in a constant state of gnawing anxiety because they don’t know
what they really want or have to do with their time.
b. After: They take an inventory of all their commitments, and judge them
objectively in order of true priority to their goals. Then they have the courage and honesty to say no to people to free up more time to do what they want or need to do with their own life.
7. Weekly Progress Reviews=Focus and Less Stress
a. Once a week, set aside clear time to make a list of all your projects. Mark the
ones that you’ve finished, ones that are pending, and the new ones that have
occurred in the past week.
b. Doing so helps relieve stress, and helps you regain focus on the specific tasks
that must be done.
8. David’s Inbox Zero Approach
a. Every 24-48, take the time to clear your inbox. Respond quickly or get rid of the emails piling up.
b. You want to get rid of your backlog physically and psychologically so that if a surprise happens the next day, you can refocus and recalibrate.
c. You also need to have a firm grasp of who you are and what you want so that you can “drop off” inputs, aka tasks that come at you, if they do not align with your priorities.
i. “Learning to make executive operational decisions about what things are, what they mean or what you are going to do about them and where they need to go in your life on the front-end instead of the back, is just a lot of what GTD is about.”
9. Employ Virtual Assistants–Delegating
a. Outsourcing work that takes you more time, energy and stress than it takes for
someone else to do can help you get more things done. With less burdens on your plate, you free up time to do more profitable work for yourself. And you create a paid job for someone else.
b. If someone you handed the work off to drops the ball, don’t let it happen again, but live and learn from it.
10. David on Life Coaches
a. If you want to grow yourself, you could definitely benefit from life coaches. b. However, the life coach has to be at a higher level of success than you are in
terms of style, energy or values or else you won’t learn much from them.
11. David’s “Mind Like Water” Approach
a. An empty head is the best way to get stuff done.
i. In other words, “like what you’re doing, in which case doing it with less
effort and getting more results from the energy you put into it, would seem like a good idea or if you don’t particularly care about what you’re doing you just have to do it anyway, then doing it as efficiently as you can so that you can get out of there as fast as you can so that you can do something else you like to do better.”
1. Ask yourself: “what are the easiest practices that you can get stuff done with as little effort as possible.”
12. Dealing with “Urgency Addiction”
a. Lots of people have urgency addiction: they deal with the urgent but not
important tasks, and put off the important but not urgent tasks.
b. Sometimes you have to deal with the urgencies–there’s no way around it. But the real problem to address is solving whether the urgency is really urgent or you just
made it so as a way to avoid doing something you really ought to be doing.
13. What do you do when you truly are overburdened with work?
a. Before taking action on the mountain of work, take a pause and review your “horizon of focus” to mature your intuitive guidance.
i. Ask yourself: How does the work you are about to do relate to where you want to be in the near and distant future of your career? Your lifestyle? What is really important to you? Of the 300 things you feel you need to do, what are the one to six things that will bring you the highest payoff in terms of your long term goals if they are marked off the list?
ii. Make paper-based to-do lists. Computerized lists are easier to make, and thus easier to forget.
14. What David thinks of Google’s 20% time:
a. It could be a great way to inspire creativity, but it could also be a burden. No
matter what the company culture, you still have to be smart about what you decide to do with your time.
i. “Given where I am going, who I am, what I am committed to and what all this is about, what are the things that I am committed to, should they be
the things I am committed too, that doesn’t change, no matter what the
15. David’s thoughts on tackling the seemingly endless crises in the world, e.g. world
hunger, war, poverty, etc.
a. If you have something good to do, give it to people doing good work.
b. Your perspective is the most valuable thing in the world. People could have a life
in the pits, but could be happy. Conversely, people could have a life that looks
abundant, and want to take their lives.
c. Take on some cheap wins to begin with, which will allow you to take on bigger
challenges and move forward.
David’s parting wisdom:
“It all comes down to actions anyway. . . . It all comes down to emails and phone calls and open[ing] your mouth and walk[ing] your body.
So everything ultimately comes down to . . . physical behavior. . . . [and] At the end of the day, that you felt like you took the behaviors you should have, is a lot of what I think GTD can facilitate. It is easier than people think to actually do all this.”
Thanks for listening! I hope you learned as much as I did from David. If you want to read more about GTD, check out these additional articles I wrote about it: Clearing the Clutter , Hop Off the Time Management Treadmill, and Outsourcing and Delegating. Until then, get things done!