Getting Things Done: David Allen shares GTD obstacles and secrets – BTTDL016


David Allen is the originator of GTD, and founder of David Allen Co. GTD is the shorthand brand for “Getting Things Done,” the groundbreaking work-life management system by David Allen that provides concrete solutions for navigating uncertainty into an integrated system of stress-free productivity.

David is the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, 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.

David Allen Company is a global training and consulting company, widely considered the leading authority in the fields of organizational and personal productivity.

Covered in this episode:

  • GTD Basics
  • GTD hang ups – common places where the GTD process falls apart for people:
    1. Failure to capture
    2. Failure to decide the outcome you’re committed to, and the specific action steps
    3. Failure to then act (2 minute rule) or capture the action, or reminder to act on in the future
    4. Failure to review
  • The one list most people do work well is their calendar.
  • Anything that is a win that instills trust in your system helps.
  • Simple processes to achieve mini wins to trust your system more
  • Drawing on the right side of the brain
  • Sometimes a trusted system can be people
  • David Allen’s TEDx Talk: WHY do GTD, not just WHAT it is or HOW
  • How David starts his day: Good coffee, and the right maps.
  • Dealing with distractions and unexpected inbox deliveries
  • David’s most powerful tools: The Physical Inbox and Notetaker wallet
  • How GTD applies to “work/life balance/blending”
  • GTD is a lifestyle
  • A lot of Getting Things Done is about not getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with what’s going on.
  • GTD and personal relationships
  • The relationship between David and his wife’s personal GTD systems
  • GTD behaviors really need to be installed in a cooperate culture
  • Movings things from the someday maybe list into actions and tasks to bring them into reality
  • How much time is too much time “investigating” productivity apps?
  • The “official GTD app”
Bad meetings create huge emails, and huge emails create bad meetings. - @GTDGuyClick To Tweet

David uses:

  • List function in Lotus notes
  • Eproductivity add in for list and calender functionality
  • Mind Manager for mind maps
  • The Brain

For capture:

  • iPhone 5
  • iPad
  • Gmail
  • Nothing beats pen and paper!

Connect with David and the GTD System:

Please connect with me

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  • Christopher Battles

    Pen and paper can still be used? 😉
    The main thing I got from this was the process of training myself.
    Thank you Erik and David. This book is on my list to read and now that I know about it even more it will go up higher.

    K, bye

    • Erik Fisher

      I use a pen and paper daily. :)

  • David Santistevan

    I like that he said the GTD principles are timeless. Your form of capturing may change but GTD always works in every area of your life.

    • Erik Fisher

      What is your preferred method of capture?

  • Kate Stalter

    Another great interview, Erik, thanks! I’ve read the book a couple times, but it’s been awhile. The main takeaway for me was “capture.” Don’t let stuff float around in my head — get it written down.

    • Erik Fisher

      Capture, or starting, can sometimes be the hardest place to be.

  • justinromack

    I bought this book in 2009 on a recommendation from a friend – and it’s sat on a bookshelf ever since. Hearing David’s voice, how straightforward the system is and the insightful investigation by Erik, I shook off the dust and have been digging in.

    Phenomenal work, terrific podcast and an excellent read so far! :)

    • Erik Fisher

      Awesome! I’m glad you pulled it off the shelf, and are digging in!

  • James Hahn II

    Erik, Thank You!! I tried GTD in the fall of ’09 using a notebook with various tabs for my Next Actions lists. It was amazing for the short time I did it, but it stalled out fairly quickly because I’m a really slow writer, so it took far too long to capture everything. Plus, I work in front of my computer all day, so it didn’t take long before I stopped taking the initiative to write down all of the tasks coming into my email inbox every day.

    Fast forward to today and I recently took on A LOT more responsibility at work. Over the past couple months, my tasks have multiplied exponentially and I’ve been incredibly stressed trying to keep it all straight in my head. My wife has complained she felt I was always at work, and she was right. I’ve had so much stuff swimming around my head all the time, I haven’t been able to be present anywhere I’ve been.

    Thankfully, I listened to this podcast over the weekend and you inspired me to make a change. You helped me realized I’ve been so stressed, edgy and short precisely because the inbox in my head was overloaded. I needed to once again start collecting my thoughts and tasks, determining actions and living in clarity. But, I needed a tool that allowed me to collect at a pace that works for my digital brain.

    After much searching, I decided to go with Evernote using a combination of @Location, .Project and other named tags (as explained in this video: ). It’s only been 3 days and WOW! My stress level has greatly diminished and at every minute of the day, I know I’m working on exactly what I’m supposed to at that moment. I love that I can forward emails into Evernote and tag them in the email subject. I finally have a way to manage all of the tasks coming in that isn’t my email inbox. Plus, our priest regularly sends out prayer requests via email, so it’s awesome to be able to forward them directly to my #Prayers_Intercessions tag. I’ll never forget another request!

    The best part of it is that I am present for the first time in several months. When my wife talks, I can actually listen. And, most importantly, I can finally be present and listen in prayer.

    My lesson learned here for anyone who tries GTD, make sure and pick a collection method that works for you and your brain. Analogue wasn’t a fit for me, but that was a failure of the tools, not the system.

    Again, thank you Erik! I know it’s only been a few days, but it feels like a brave new world and I’m loving it!!

    p.s. Sorry for the long comment. I tried to leave a short note, but ended up feeling compelled to tell you the whole story. :)

    • Erik Fisher

      No worries about the comment length. I am really glad this helped you so much.

  • Money Wise Pastor

    Erik, I’m really loving your Beyond the To-Do List podcast! I’m a wannabe GTDer. I’ve implemented some things but haven’t fully committed. I’ve a very spontaneous guy and struggle with structure at times. One thing David said really struck me – that GTD gives you the structure to be spontaneous…and still get all the important things done that you need to do. Something else I took away that David said: GTD helps you make decisions when things show up instead of when they blow up. Great takeaways for me!

  • John Smiley

    What an excellent podcast to first come across your site, Erik. I have been a peripheral GTDer for quite a few years now. I probably first bought Allen’s book around 2005 or so. I tried a variety of tools in the early days, but for a couple of years (longer?) have been using Evernote as my primary tool.

    Listening to the podcast, I realize that I have moved away from Getting Things Done and mostly put my focus upon Getting Things Out of My Head. While that is an important part, obviously, my actual use of GTD and Evernote for implementation has dwindled significantly.

    It was very reassuring to hear Allen speak about how “we’re not born doing this”. Indeed, getting things done, while an excellent principle, is not something that is naturally ingrained in me, and that my own productivity, and indeed, my record of doing-what-I-said-I-was-going-to-do, is deserving of more attention that simply recording what it is that I’m thinking for future reference. I’m reinvigorated to revisit my system, process the immense amount of goodies in my inbox, and get back to an orderly and constructive completion of all of those things that are likely awaiting some action.

    Thanks kindly for this kick in the pants!

  • Chris Murphy

    Great interview Erik. As usual this episode was packed with useful tips, tricks and thoughts. I liked it so much I listened to this episode twice.

    I thought the hangups (failure to capture, failure to decide the outcome, failure to then act, failure to review) in the process was really insightful. It reiterated to me the GTD steps, and where a breakdown usually begins. It’s interesting how such a fundamental hiccup could cause so much confusion down the line.

    Erik, what do you find is the biggest difference (or positive/negative) in using the GTD mindset versus the 7 Habits system from FranklinCovey?

    Thanks again for all your work.

  • Kate Stalter

    Erik — do you follow Jason Womack, who used to work with David? Jason has a terrific blog, book. and podcast.

    Might be interesting :)

  • Jason M Atwood

    Can’t wait to listen. (Found you from Back 2 Work)

    • Erik Fisher

      Awesome! Welcome aboard!

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  • Dan Ghramm

    Thanks for this interview (and the others, too), Erik! This one in particular inspired me. I’ve dabbled with GTD for a few years now but this interview inspired me to jump completely in. His quote, “You gotta trust your system” or something like that pointed out to me that I wasn’t and that’s why I kept falling off the GTD wagon. Immediately after your podcast, I purchased his book and listened to the whole thing as well as all of the GTD podcasts I could find.

    It’s been a productive few months ever since listening to this one.

    I’m an avid Things using on the mac, iPad and iPhone.

    Keep up the good work, Erik!

    By the way, a good friend and I are in the planning stages of launching Pastors are lousy at this stuff and needs some encouragement. :) I wouldn’t mind interviewing you in the future.


    Dan Ghramm

    • Erik Fisher

      So glad you are trusting your system!

  • Gtdagenda

    For implementing GTD you can use this web-application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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  • Bill Briggs

    Well, I have resisted these visual mindmapping thingies, but this podcast has convinced me to give the free versions of The Brain and Xmind a try. I have switched calenders recently to the paid VueMinder for my desktop because web based Google calender doesn’t show descriptions (which I use a lot) and printing is a pain. I use calengoo and calendar 5 on my ipad.

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