The Art of Getting Things Done – An Interview with David Allen

David Allen Getting Things Done

David Allen – The Art of Getting Things Done. The Online Marketing Show Episode 056


David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity which is one of the worlds most popular time management/productivity books. He is also the author of 2 follow up books Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done and Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life.

In this interview he shares his “Getting Things Done” methodology so that we can accomplish what we want to with minimum stress.

David shares…

  • The key to getting lots of things done without stress or anxiety
  • 3 steps to make sure you don’t break commitments with yourself or others
  • The 5 stages of mastering workflow
  • The 6 level model for reviewing your own work
  • How to choose which task to be working on in any given moment
  • The 5 step natural planning model

And much more! Just click the play button to listen to the interview or read the full transcript below…

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Joey Bushnell: Hey, welcome to the online marketing show. This is Joey Bushnell. I am very excited to introduce today’s special guest, his name is David Allen and he is the author of Getting Things Done, one of the worlds most famous time management and productivity books. Go to to find out more.

David thank you so much for joining me today.

David AllenDavid Allen: My pleasure Joey

Joey Bushnell: David how did you come to write the book Getting Things Done?”

David Allen: I spent about 20 – 25 years doing the work which is the foundation for the methodology that I put together. So it really was writing a manual after all of those years. It took me 25 years, as I said, to figure out what I figured out and that it actually was unique and no one else had quite done it that way.

It also took that long for me to feel really comfortable  that it was bullet proof. I tested it across culture, I tested it with all kinds of people from CEO’s of fortune 50 corporations, to kids, to everybody! And basically couldn’t punch a hole in it.

So once I trusted that it really, really did work and that people still needed it, I said in case I get run over by a bus I better put it in writing because somebody might figure it out at some point. So that was really the prime driver.

Joey Bushnell: You’ve also written several other books since then based on the core ideas in “Getting Things Done” as well?

David Allen: Yeah, what is fascinating to me Joey is I could still make a living and still keep doing what I’m doing for 30 plus years, with the 12 things that I know! How may ways can you spin it?

But I’m sure the same is true for the core elements to good marketing or anything else. It’s really how many ways you can spin it and how deep you can go with it. It is, as simple as the model is, it really is a lifestyle and a lifetime craft to get really good at how you manage your work and life in that way.

Joey Bushnell: The book changed my life David. I used to find myself getting very stressed, overwhelmed and not getting enough done each day, that I would have liked to have got done. I know having spoken to friends who are business owners as well, they find themselves in a similar position too. So I think this is something that is universal and a lot of people struggle with this.

In your opinion why do you think business owners tend to find themselves getting stressed and getting overwhelmed?

David Allen: Well, first of all you’re not going to get rid of challenges and you’re not going to get rid of stress in the positive way. If you didn’t have challenges you would never grow, expand or express and also your competition would have it just as easy as you. So I don’t kid anybody you don’t get rid of the kind of challenges that a business owner or entrepreneur have to deal with in terms of making it in the world. That is going to be a challenge.

What you want is to be able to be in the drivers seat about it.

It’s like you might be out in a sail boat in stormy weather so it is a challenge but you want to make sure you don’t let go of the helm. In other words you need to stay in control and in the drivers seat of what you are doing.

So a lot of my methodology was… how do you get on top of that game so you are appropriately focused and appropriately in the drivers seat with your hand on the helm? I think that is the big key and in a way the issue for business owners and entrepreneurs is no different than the issue for most everybody on the planet, certainly who are trying to get things done, and that is most people are trying to use their psyche as their system. Your psyche, your head, is a terrible office, it really is!

So a lot of my message, I don’t know how long I’m going to keep preaching this is “Guys, you’ve got to get it out of your head, it’s a really crappy office”. If you are just trying to use your head for strategy and for thinking about what you need to do and to try and get rid of the pressures, that won’t work. It’s not designed like that, your head is designed for handling ideas not for holding them.

The cognitive scientists in the last 10 years have done all kinds of research to validate what GPD and the Getting Things Done methodology really figured out from the street, which is to get it out of your head. I’ve never seen anybody and I’ve dealt one on one and spent thousands of hours with business owners literally sitting desk side with them and having them just dump their head…

“Hey, what do you have your attention on?”

“Well I have the bank thing, and this thing, and the competition, and we have the product, and this launch, and the advertising and I have this staff thing”.

“Great get it all out!”

Once they get it out, they feel both relief and angst because they are looking at it feeling “Oh my, look at how many things I have my attention on and have commitments about”.

Yeah no kidding! People get mad at me about their list! sorry it’s not my list it’s yours. Your choice is what you do with those commitments. Most people have internalized those instead of externalized those and you need to build an external brain.

Joey Bushnell: So it’s having all of those things stored up in your head that is creating the overwhelm, you just feel like you got a never ending to do list.

David Allen: Yeah, here is the problem, if you are just trying to keep track of something in your head, that part of you that is hanging onto that, is hanging onto it and taking up space that is not available for other things. There really is limited psychic space or psychic RAM which can fill up and choke the system if you do that. That place also seems to have no sense of past or future.

So if you tell yourself you need to hire somebody and you keep saying in your head “I need to hire somebody” but that’s the only place you keep track of that and reviewing it, there is a part of you that thinks you should be hiring somebody 24/7, all the time.

As soon as you file 2 things in your head that are unfinished and you have your attention on and it’s the only place you are tracking it, you’ve created instant failure and stress because you can’t do them both at the same time and there is a part of you psychologically that is trying to.

Joey Bushnell: You mention in the book that there is a power in not breaking internal commitments and agreements that we make with ourselves. So what are the emotional benefits of not breaking those commitments and how can we prevent ourselves from doing it?

David Allen: Well the main down side to breaking an agreement is the disintegration of trust. That is an automatic price you pay when you tell yourself to do something and you don’t do it, you automatically lose your own self trust. If you tell other people you are going to do something and you don’t do it you automatically lose their trust. There are people I love dearly but I wouldn’t trust further than I could spit. They show up when they tell me they are going to show up based upon data. But they didn’t keep that agreement, OK then, I don’t trust them. Doesn’t mean I don’t love them anymore but it means I lack trust.

So the self trust is the price you pay when you break an agreement with yourself. If that is true, and all of these agreements, most people haven’t a clue of how many things they have agreed with themselves about. It’s all of their would’s, should’s, could’s, need to’s, ought to’s  and that is what I have spent thousands of hours, and my coaching staff have as well, literally getting people to just objectify all of the things they’ve told themselves they ought to, need to or could do, everything they have their attention on about that. Most people are blown away by how much that’s really there.

Now those agreements, you obviously can’t go and finish those 150 things or those 25 big projects all at once. The best things to do is, if you don’t want to break an agreement you have 3 options…

The first option is don’t make the agreement in the first place. A lot of times people dump stuff out of their head and they go “That’s a dumb idea when I look at all of the other stuff I’m going to do, I’m not going to do that at all.” Which is great just take it off your list. Most people are a bit spoiled thinking they can do everything. Like I say, you can do anything but not everything. So just being aware and being more mature about what your inventory is and what you can handle that is a smart thing to do. So option one is don’t make the agreement or unhook from it.

Another option is go and finish your agreement, go and do the stuff you tell yourself you are going to do. You need cat food? Go and buy cat food! You want to hire somebody? Hire someone. Those are your better days when you actually finish a lot of things you told yourself you want to do. So completing things is another way you will complete the agreement.

The third one, which is the most critical one to be aware of, which is, if I agree with you Joey, I’m going to call you at 9am and something comes up in my world and I can’t keep that agreement, obviously the thing for me to do is contact you and rearrange that agreement “Hey Joey, can we make it some other time? Something else has come up”. If we renegotiate the agreement then it’s not broken. All of that big thing I just said, is why you need to write it down, look at it and go “Not now”. You can only feel good about what you are not doing when you know what you’re not doing.

So it’s not really about getting things done believe it or not. Here is a big secret and I’ll only tell you and of course the smart, savvy listeners to your program but getting things done is really about getting appropriately engaged with everything in your work and your life so you can become present with everything that you are doing. Which is really the optimal way to do anything, is presence, when you are fully there and you are in your flow. Being appropriately engaged. How many things are you not doing right now because you are talking to me?

Joey Bushnell: Lot’s of things!

David Allen: Yeah me too! So the only way we can be present here in this conversation, is if some part of us has looked at all the rest of it and said “No, that can wait. Talking to Joey is the best thing for me to do in my life right now”. Now, I need to know what that is, if I hadn’t kept everything out of my head and looked at it every few days in some detail then there is a part of me that is going to walk around with this angst, that I won’t even know what the source of it is, I’ll just feel uncomfortable.

So shutting that up really is a master key to how you start to get control and to be able to be in control and appropriately focused on whatever it is you are doing, whether it is playing golf, writing a business plan or doing a marketing plan. You want to be able to be there fully. So that doesn’t solve the problem of what do I put in the marketing plan or business plan but it allows you to be fully available so you can access your intelligence and not be distracted.

I think that is the master key to productivity and it also means appropriate engagement with all of those things. You just need to look at them on some regular basis and go “OK, that’s OK, oh that reminds me and oh I ought to…” It’s that kind of thinking and everybody does that intuitively and instinctively but you usually do that when the pressure gets really bad. But I’ve never had anybody in the 30 plus years I’ve been doing this who started to write it all down take a look at it and didn’t feel slightly more in control and more focused.

Joey Bushnell: I guess the great thing is when you get into the habit of this and you are consistently getting things done, like you said before, if you break commitments you lose trust in yourself but I guess after practicing this for a while, you will get a positive reinforcement that you are the kind of person who is reliable and gets things done, and surely that has got to do wonders for the psyche.

David Allen: Oh it’s huge, yeah, and that takes a lot of forms. I usually respond to every email within 24 hours, sometimes 48 or 72, if I’m on a real roll doing something else but my backlog starts at zero and I get it back to zero pretty fast. People then pretty much don’t send me trash because I respond, I’m a responder, they get feedback right away from that.

So it not only builds trust, there is something recently which is called psychological capital and that means I’m feeling optimistic, I’m in control of my life, I have hope, I have direction. That is a very very powerful state to be in. When people see that you have that, your equity goes up in terms of their perception of value to you, their interest in communicating with you and all of that good stuff.

Joey Bushnell: One of the main concepts in the book is something you call “Mastering the 5 stages of work flow” is it OK to go through that please?

David Allen: Sure, first thing you have to do is capture anything that might potentially be work. The first stage is collective capture and that I like writing it down. You can’t just leave one stage otherwise it will back up on you like bad plumbing.

Once you write it down, you then need to go through each one of those things that has your attention and then clarify what you are going to do about it, what the outcome is and the action step is if there is any.  So that is the executive thinking about the notes you took in the meeting or the things you wrote down on your list. You wrote down bank, well what is that what is the outcome you are after? Well I need to see if I can extend my credit line. Great what is your next action? I think I should call Bill Smith and see what he did with his bank. Good, now you have an outcome and you have an action but those things don’t show up by themselves you actually have to think through the stuff that you have captured.

So stage 2 is a clarification or processing. Essentially it’s emptying your in basket. Not by finishing the work that is in there but by defining what the work is specifically in there. Is this trash? Is this reference? Is it something I need to review later? Is it actionable? If so, what are the outcomes and what are the action steps? Those are the basic executive decisions you would make about what does this stuff actually mean that I have now captured.

Stage 3 would then be to organize that. By the way between stage 2 and 3, that is where the little magic 2 minute rule sits. That is, once you figure out what action step it is, if you can take it in 2 minutes or less you ought to do it right then and there because it would take you longer to stack it, track it and review than it would be to finish it the first time it’s in your face. So just cleaning up your in baskets, your email in basket and your physical in basket, if you hold the 2 minute rule you will actually get a lot of stuff done and make a lot of progress on a lot of things. You’ll be amazed how many things with the action step could be finished in less than 2 minutes, assuming you have decent keyboard skills.

That is also where you delegate. So once I pick something up and say “This is going to take me longer than 2 minutes to do”, great, can you give this off to somebody else? That is also where you want to hand it off in some sort of systematic way.

So going through from stage 2 to 3, what you then organize is, what is left. What I need to organize are the things that I need to keep track of, the projects I’ve got, the action steps I need to take that I can’t hand off or finish in the moment and that’s where I need to organize that. Basically you need to organize everything that you need to keep around you or has value to you. So your reference stuff goes where that goes, trash obviously goes  in the recycle bin or shredder. Actionable things then need to be parked somewhere where they remind you appropriately.

So where do I put a list of projects that I’ve got? Where do I put the reminders of phone calls I need to make? Where do I put the reminders about the things I want to talk to my banker about when I see him or her? Now that I’m defining what moves the needle on all of the actionable things I’m committed to, then I need to make sure they are parked appropriately in the right place so my head doesn’t lose them and my head doesn’t have to take them back. That is the organize stage that is stage 3. So now I’m organized, I’ve captured everything out of my head, I’ve decided what it means, I’ve parked it in appropriate places.

Then stage 4 is I need to the engage with the material, I need to look at my list, I need to look at my categories for things that I’ve held on some regular basis so I keep it current and I keep the larger perspective. So that is the review stage that is stage 4.

Review takes on lots of different levels, you obviously need to review your diary or your calendar before you start your day or the night before. On your phone if you have some spare time, say you’re at a Starbucks and you have some time, you can review your phone call list so you can be productive while you are waiting for someone to show up. So that is the review phase and it takes on a lot of different levels as I say.

But then after all of that you have to be engaged, stage 5 is  basically how do I now allocate resources? Do I go have a beer? Do I go to my computer to draft a document? Or do I go to sleep? So that is where to engage once you’ve done all that.

So the best practice of all of those is, as I said, to have captured everything, make sure it’s not banging around in your head. If you decided what those things mean, once you decide what they mean, park them where those things go. Then make sure you engage in some regular review process with all of it so you feel comfortable with what you are doing and what you are not doing.

Joey Bushnell: OK, David in the second stage, the processing stage what options do we have there? In the book you have a nice diagram which makes it very visual, so could you try to describe for those listening, what are the main options we have when it comes to stage two?

David Allen: Well your first question is, is this actionable yes or no? That is the first thing to decide. Are you actually going to do something about what it is that you wrote down or this email? So that is the first distinction you need to make, that is the first decision.

Well actually, the first decision is what the hell is this?! What is this email? Why does it have 14 attachments to it and why did they send this to me? is it CC’d to me, what is this? So believe it or not that is something you need to clarify. So the first thing is what the heck is it that I have captured, collected or that has come to me in my in basket. Then the critical decision is is it an actionable item yes or no?

If it is a no and there is no action on it, now you now have three options of no’s. First of all is it’s trash I don’t need it or now I’ve seen it I don’t need it. So that is one option.

Another option is there’s no action on it now but there might be later. There are other things pending, I can’t make the decision about this right now, let me see it in a week, two days, two months or the beginning of next quarter. That would be the incubate. It could be something that you decide could have potential action but not now, then you need to make sure you revisit it on some recursion, so that’s number two of the non-action options.

The third thing is reference material. There is no action on it but it is information I need to keep it because I made need access to it for some reason.

So if it’s non actionable it’s either trash, incubate or reference.

Now if it is actionable than you have those 2 key questions to answer about it. Essentially the zero’s and ones of productive work, are what is the outcome I’m committed to, if any? And what is the next action required? So outcome and action become the core elements of productive engagement. What am I moving toward as some final outcome IE Is there a project here? If it’s more than one step, we call that a project because you might do the one step and then get distracted or go onto other things and you’ve still got an open loop.

So defining the project of actionable things, if you have one and most people have between 30 and 100 projects. If you consider that simple definition of more than one step things that you are committed to finish in the next few weeks or months and include personal as well as professional. So that includes your next holiday, it’s getting tires on your car, launching the ad campaign, hire a new assistant, research the new mobile phone app. I would consider all of those projects and most people have 40, 60, 70 of those. 

So defining those things, if it’s actionable, is there an outcome I need to capture? When getting things done you need to define what does “done” mean? That is the outcome.

Then what does doing look like? In other words, where does doing happen? What’s the very next physical, visible action you would need to take to start to move the needle on that? Is it a phone call you need to make? Is it an email you need to send? A document you need to draft? A website you need to surf? A conversation you need to have with your life partner, banker or assistant? And defining that, “OK, I’ve got an outcome and I’ve got a next action”.

Those are the real key distinctions about actionable things, then you wind up with projects and actions. Most people have 150, 180 or 200 next actions if you really did this inventory completely. Those are all the executive decisions and then that starts to define for you how you organize that. Organization just simply means that where something is, matches what it means to you.

Which begs the question what does it mean to me? So I just answered that… “It’s an incubate”, OK so I need to put it where incubate things go. “There is a project embedded in this”, great I need to capture that where I’ve got a list of projects. “There is a phone call I need to make about this”, great I’ll park that where I see a list of phone calls to make.

Joey Bushnell: And are you doing this digitally or do you like doing it on paper?

David Allen: I do them both, if you can’t do it low tech you’re going to have a hard time doing it high tech because you are going to need to understand what the functions are. Once you understand the function you can do it low tech, mid tech or high tech.

The truth is I do a lot of pen and paper in capture because the batteries in pen and paper last a long time, you don’t need to plug them in and they are pretty ubiquitous. Good thoughts occur in the strangest places! So a lot of my capturing in stage one is done on pen and paper just because it’s so ubiquitous and so easy.

Though you could call your own answering machine, voicemail or you could Siri yourself a note into your email. There are a lot of ways you could capture with the technology now. It ranges but mostly I use pen and paper for that piece. But obviously a lot of it is being digitally collected through social media or email. If your email is getting LinkedIn notices or Facebook requests all of that is coming in, in digital form just by it’s very nature.

But usually the question comes down to how do I organize that? And to a large degree, most of these categories are lists and that is how I keep track of those?

Right now I’m keeping track of that, we use lotus notes in my company so within the lists or task function are all of those notes. But then also replicas are synced with my iPhone. But I’ve done all of that, I’ve carried an elegant danish loose leaf planner for 20 years. But I’ve got a lot of high tech people going back to planners right now because they have found that paper is a lot more obvious and fits the way your mind likes to see larger contexts of things and relationships of things computers are kind of tricky about that.

Joey Bushnell: I guess the key thing is just making sure you do it, whether you prefer digital, paper or whiteboard, it’s just making sure you do that processing stage.

David Allen: Sure and then you need to, obviously once you’ve organized this, it needs to accessible somewhere where it is easy for you to have it accessible. So technology has certainly made that easier on your smart phone to be able to keep lists and things like that so you can then synchronize those in different places. If you don’t need to see a reminder of something other than where you have a white board then white board is fine. But again there is a big difference between capturing ideas and deciding what they mean and organizing the results of that.

Joey Bushnell: So onto stage 4 reviewing. In the book you talk about a 6 level model for reviewing your own work, could you explain a little bit about that please?

David Allen: Yeah I couldn’t get it any simpler than 6. If you think about the, I call them, different horizons of your commitments or horizons of focus.

You have a commitment Joey to be a good human being or to be some sort of human being or to do something on the planet. So that is the big commitment, why do you exist? What is your purpose?

Or you could do it for your company, what is the purpose of your company or your organization? The big “why?”. Why do I exist? What is my ultimate intentionality? That is one level, that is kind of a top level of your priorities. You wouldn’t want to be off purpose in terms of being a human being or your company.

Then you have more operational levels of that too. If you were fulfilling your purpose wildly successfully what would that look like?  And that comes down to what I call horizon 4. I’ve labelled these horizon 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and ground level in the new vocabulary, it’s a bit more global. So if you think about levels in a building, there is a ground floor then floor 1, next floor up is 2, 3, 4 and 5.

So the top floor is the top level which would be purpose.

The 4th floor is… what would the vision look like if you were fulfilling your purpose? Your long term goal, in other words. What is the picture 5 years from now? When you grow up what do you want to be doing? So that would be another level of commitment is to be fulfilling that commitment.

Then more operational at level 3 if you come down to that, is what do you need to in the next 3-12-24 months? What are the objectives you have or goals you have that you need to achieve that you think will move you toward your vision, it’s another level of commitment. Level 3 is often times what you see in company plans. Their strategic or operational plan that they have been looking at a year or 2 and what they want to accomplish.

Then you need to come down to level 2 and say “Yeah but we have to make sure this enterprise is healthy and balanced and maintains itself so we can move forward”. That is the level of maintenance. What are the things you need to maintain?

In a company you need to maintain public relations, marketing, sales, operations, finance, admin and executive functions. These are things that you need to make sure that you maintain at a certain level of standards. So level 2 is a lot about what is your job description? What are all the hats you wear? What are all of your areas of focus and responsibility or accountability?

Personally that would be how is your health and vitality? Your relationships? Your household? How’s your creative expression? Your career? Or any of those types of things. So level 2 is what drives you a lot and why you have a lot of projects and why you do a lot of actions is because you have a lot of areas of accountability and focus.

Then you come down to level 1 and say what do you need to finish about all of that and that is projects. Level 1 would be all of your commitments you had, as I mentioned most people have 40, 50, 60 or 70 of those.

Then what are all the things you need to do about those projects? That is when you get down to the ground floor and all the actions you need to take… the phone calls, emails, talk to’s etc and most people have a couple of hundred of those. I couldn’t get it any simpler than that.

Those are 6 very different levels of conversation with yourself and they’re 6 very different levels of content. Your strategic plan looks very different than your job description. Is one better than the other? No, they are kind of equal. But you can only do things on the ground floor. All of those other levels help to give you direction and help you set priorities.

Joey Bushnell: And do you work top down when you are doing this or bottom up?

David Allen: I personally focus on whatever I need to focus on to get it off my mind. In other words when I’m playing with my dog, I don’t want to be thinking of my strategic plan, I need to have already thought about it.  There is no really better or worse but there is a hierarchy that my actions should be fulfilling my finishing projects which should be maintaining areas of focus which is also moving me toward my goals which is going to help me fulfill my vision which is going to be ultimately aligned with my purpose. Ideally all of these things will be aligned up toward the top level.

The truth is that you can’t do anything except on the ground level. No matter how important your strategic plan is you still have to bring it down to “So what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do against all the other things you have to do?”.

Ultimately I’ve never seen anybody be able to create a formula other than trusting their gut, the seat of their pants, their liver, their spirit, their heart or whatever it may be, that still, small voice that you trust when you are making a judgement call based upon that. Ideally you want to have had all of those conversations. You and your life partner talk about where you want to be 4 years from now, you and your company have talked about your strategic plan and your own performance goals.

All of that tied back to what’s really important to you, you don’t care where you live or work as long as what’s true. You kind of bounce all around those things, there is not necessarily a linear sequence of how to think through those. As I say, it’s often times easier to start getting control on the ground level and the first floor. In other words if your projects and your action level is out of control, don’t even try to be thinking that you can be doing much thinking or good work on any of the other levels.

So you need to feel confident that you can execute on direction. So as I say, how long does it take for you to change a goal? Oh about half a second. How long does it take for you to learn to execute seamlessly? It takes about 2 years to get really good at the GTD methodology, if you are really good.

That’s why we teach, train and coach a lot, in a way it looks like we start bottom up. “Hi, what is that piece of paper on your desk? Hi, what is that email sitting on your computer right now, why is it there? What is your next action?” Once you start to do that and start to get control there it becomes a lot easier to allow your thinking and it will automatically start to elevate to some other levels once you get that under control.

Joey Bushnell: You mentioned that you can only ever do things on the ground level, let’s explore that further if we can. How do you decide which actions to take when it comes to the “in the moment, daily level, near term” kind of tasks?

David Allen: Well the daily dance is between 3 things…

There is all the predefined actions. Here is all the phone calls and computer actions, things like that I have already defined that I need to do and those are on my lists.

Then there is all the stuff that is unplanned or unexpected. Like I get a phone call I didn’t expect or I got an email by surprise which has now put a spin on my day. For either good or challenging reasons, whatever the reason, it was unexpected. Now you are dancing between those but the unexpected stuff if that comes in, in order for me to feel comfortable I need to say “Hey I now need to focus on that instead of all the rest” I just need to know what all the rest is. In other words, I need to make sure my list of defined work is complete so I can assess the new stuff against that.

That is why the 3rd things I might be doing is cleaning up my back log and zeroing out my in basket and my email. Why? So I can trust that I don’t have a bunch of stuff lurking in there that I don’t know. The bigger your backlog the more interruptions will bother you. I’ve got 3,000 emails and this bunch of stuff I have to do inside all of that but I don’t know how exactly what it is, oh damn someone just walked in to my office. But if you have a zero backlog and someone walks into your office you say “Hi, what do you want? What can I do for you? How can you influence my world?” That is why when I’m not doing anything else, I’m cleaning up backlog but that takes 30-90 minutes a day just to do that and make sure that back log is cleaned up.

Now a lot of work get’s done there and a lot of executive thinking happens while I’m cleaning up that. I’m not just sitting there like some dumb robot cleaning up my in basket, there is a lot going on while I’m doing that but it’s still just part of your work. A lot of people complain about email, “I have to stay after hours dealing with the email”, I’m like “Dealing email is your work”. If you shouldn’t be getting it you shouldn’t get it, stop it. If you should then you should. That is how the world works these days.

Joey Bushnell: In the book you talk about something called the natural planning model, what is that and why do you recommend it?

David Allen: Years ago I spent some time thinking about what is the best planning model? And there seemed to be a lot of different ways that people tried to manage projects and planning. I don’t know whether it took me hours or days, I don’t really remember but I sat down and said “Wait a minute, we are planning all the time. We planned this call, we plan when we get dressed, we plan what we eat, where we go, we are planning all of the time”. The most brilliant planner in the universe is your mind. You couldn’t stop planning. If I asked you to stop planning you would plan how to do that! The mind is planning all of the time.

So I sat back and sort of unpacked it… “OK, how do we actually plan?” I discovered this little 5 phase model that the mind uses in order to go to dinner or do anything.

First of all it has some sort of intention or purpose. Like I’m hungry, I need to eat or sign a business deal over dinner or romance. There is some sort of intention that drives it, that’s the first thing.

Then it creates a vision, it’s going to look like this, here is what dinner looks like. But then if you are not at dinner, your vision does not match your current reality then it creates the need to brainstorm, which is stage 3. Is it raining outside? Shall we invite people round for dinner? Where are we going to go? What time? Then whereas stage 1 was the why, stage 2 is the what, what it will look like. Then stage 3 is how but the how comes in part A and part B.

How part A is the brain storming meaning your mind just starts to pre-associate ideas that are potentially relevant and meaningful to this outcome. Then stage 4 your mind goes “OK, let me organize those things”. So stage 4 is organizing that thinking into sequences or components or priorities in terms of the project.

Then stage 5 says “Let’s pick up the phone and see if we can get a reservation”, is the action, “OK, now I take action based upon that”.

So if you think about how you think that is how people are planning all the time. The problem is that is not the way a lot of people are approaching planning when they plan bigger things. Or they’re trying to explicitly plan, they usually sit down and say “Who has got a good idea?” or “How should we organize this?” and that is stage 4, that’s not stage 1.

The first question is “Why are we doing this software? What is the purpose of the software?” Stage 2 is “What would the wild success of the software allow somebody to be able to do?”. Then stage 3 is “Let’s get every single potentially wild, crazy, good, bad idea on the planet about this and throw it at the wall”. Then stage 4 says “OK, let’s find some of the components” then stage 5 “Hey, bill you’re going to handle that load of research”. That’s nice if people would do that but mostly people tend not to pay attention to the why question or wild success question or even to the brainstorming question. They just try to get organized and get moving on things and often times that doesn’t work.

Joey Bushnell: David thank you so much for answering my questions today. If someone follows the Getting Things Done methodology as a business owner, what do you think the result for them will be?

David Allen: A clear head, space to think and optimal energy to be able to put your focus where it needs to be with absolutely minimal distraction.  It really allows people to flourish. It creates a condition that people flourish whether you are a musician, a CEO of a company, a baker or chef, it can help all of those people or a clergyman. It allows people to do what they love to do, what they want to do, what they find meaningful, to be able to really focus on that and to spend most of their time doing those things and get the world off their back.

Joey Bushnell: Brilliant. You’ve shared so much during this interview and talked about a lot of different things but I think for anyone to get the maximum benefit they need to go out and buy the book and read it.

David Allen:  Even if you have the book and have read it, you need to read it again! About the 5th time you read it, you’ll start to really catch it. Believe me, it’s a different book every time you read it, for anybody who has gone back and read it again. But yes, it is a manual it is easy to get into as you know it’s a fairly simple model and it’s quite specific instructions.

Joey Bushnell: So where can we go to get the book?

David Allen: Well in the UK, Little Brown is the publisher, so you can get that at any online book stores, amazon so forth, they should have all 3 of my books. Getting Things Done is probably the most tactical kind of manual for it. The last book Making It All Work is a little wider and deeper about the same topics and my second book Ready for Anything was just a collection of essays, it’s kind of fun a little more of the “zen of Getting Things Done” in that one. Any way that’s the place to go.

Joey Bushnell: Great and where can we go to find out more about you David? Do you have a website where people can read about you and your story?

David Allen: It’s, yeah a lot of cool stuff there.

Joey Bushnell: Great. David thank you so much for coming on the show.

David Allen: My pleasure Joey