GE Ep 81: How ‘Getting Things Done’ Author David Allen Grew A Massive Productivity Movement Over 2 Million People Strong

david_allenHey everyone, today’s interview is with David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and leader of the GTD productivity movement. I really enjoyed talking with and learning from David: his productivity advice is timeless, and the fact that he’s nearly 70 years old and still wildly passionate about his work and his company is very inspiring.

Getting Things Done: More Than a Bestseller Book & Methodology

According to David, the GTD methodology is about two aspects: knowing what ‘done’ means, and knowing what ‘doing’ looks like. It also means that you framework your thinking patterns to know how to get things under control, and how to be appropriately focused on the the right things.

GTD has a five-step process for getting things under control, and six different horizons of focus, from the biggest level of your life purpose, all the way down to menial tasks like the emails you need to send.

It’s a process that takes practice to identify you best practices for, because these things simply don’t happen automatically inside our brains.

But the book has been so effective for people and so popular that it’s turned into different audio products and they’re franchising their GTD training program around the world. Plus, more than 300 apps have been developed (by third parties, none by GTD) to help give people a boost in accomplishing the GTD methodology.

Why Applying GTD is So Important

David says that for him, GTD means knowing his specific calendar commitments and planning as little as possible to make sure those things get done, so he can stay open to spontaneity.

He keeps a to-do list, but says that when the GTD methodology is truly applied, it gives you a lot of space and freedom to quickly change course and redirect your focus when you need to.

For example, when David found out last-minute that a GTD training was happening close to where he was staying, he was able to move away from the work in front of him to go visit without worry.

The New, Revised Version

The new, revised edition of Getting Things Done came out in March.

David says a lot of the terminology and methodology is the same, and that the book really won’t look all that much different to people who are already familiar with the methodology.

It does, however, have 2-3 additional chapters, and since his own perspective of the methodology has matured, some parts of the book have been updated as well.

GTD Becoming a Massive Movement

David says he never intended for the book to become such a massive movement in and of itself, but today the book’s been translated into 30 languages, has sold around 2 million copies, and he’s got over 1 million followers on Twitter.

He said it started out as a little brand that kind of just ran out from under him.

The book first came out in hard back in 2001, but when it came out in paperback in 2003, it really caught on.

He said it wasn’t really the kind of book you’d buy your entire staff in hard back, but you’d definitely buy it for them in paperback.

Additionally, after the paperback version hit the shelves, the blogosphere and tech worlds really latched onto its message and helped spread its popularity.

How Can an ADD Entrepreneur Get Back on Track?

“I think if you’re not getting off track on a regular basis, you’re probably not playing a big enough game,” says David.

Sometimes, getting off track a little bit can be your intuition telling you that doing something else might be incredibly valuable for your business.

Instead of preventing themselves from never going off track, ADD entrepreneurs can use the GTD methodology as a tether to easily get back on track when they recognize they need to.

Shifting Away from the Negative Self Talk

For people who grew up in a healthy American home, 80% of their feedback was negative.

Even if it was for their own good, by hearing a lot of “don’t to this…. don’t do that…” it’s easy to see why this is something that gets internalized and makes it easy for us to beat ourselves up.

And through being a little self-critical and practicing self-correction can be incredibly beneficial to leading a disciplined, productive life, learning to re-frame your own self talk and learning to think in affirmations and positive outcomes can really be a game-changer.

Hanging Out at the Social Media Cocktail Party

David’s Twitter feed is really active, but he says he does it all himself rather than hiring a social media manager.

“To me,” he says, “Twitter is like a cocktail party.” He doesn’t feel obligated to maintain and interact on Twitter and Instagram, but he does so because they’re fun to be on, and he just does it when he feels like it.

Best Productivity Takeaway: The Two-Minute Rule

David loves using his career to help people be more productive, and says that even if they don’t implement the entire GTD methodology, even just the two-minute rule can be a huge help.

Basically, the two minute rule is that if an action will take you two minutes or less, just go ahead and do it the first moment it pops in front of your face. Otherwise, it’s going to take you more than two minutes if you push it back for later and have to re-organize so you’re able to finish it then.

David Allen’s Top Productivity Hack: Recognizing the Limitations of Your Mind

“Your head is for having ideas, not holding them,” he says.

He says that if you’re having an idea and you can’t take care of it in that exact moment, then you need to get it out of your head rather than leaving it inside. Otherwise, he says, you’ll wake up at 3 am thinking about how you need to buy cat food, even though there’s no possible way for you to take care of it at that moment.

The Struggle of Growing the GTD Movement

David says the biggest issue the GTD movement has is a marketing one, because they solve a problem most people either don’t even realize they have, or don’t think can be solved.

Just as the last thing a fish notices is water, the last thing people notice is how much stress they’re walking around in everyday, and the biggest struggle is trying to convince people it.

Advice to His 25-Year-Old Self

“Don’t take myself too seriously.”

“Lighten up.”

“Trust your intuition.”

Who is His Idol & Why?

Though there’s a lot of people he respects for different reasons, David sites his spiritual coach and mentor, John-Roger, who died last year.

When he found John, he thought he was incredibly sharp and decided that he would hang around him until he learned everything he could from him, and for 45 years, that learning never stopped.

One Must-Read Book

Alongside Brain Chains, David recommends The Organized Mind because they both affirm the requirement for the external brain and validate the GTD methodology, which is something he can’t help but be enthusiastic about.

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About Eric Siu

Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.

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